London: Love to binge on fatty foods such as oily samosas and cheese-laden pizzas? Beware, as a new study warns that such children may be at risk of developing cognitive and psychiatric problems such as schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease in their adulthood.
According to the study, diets rich in fat deplete the levels of a key protein known as reelin which help synapses in the brain to work properly. This hampers behavioural flexibility and memory. Low levels of reelin have been associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in later life.
"These changes from a young age onwards are more the result of the fatty foods themselves, and the impact they have on young brains, rather than arising from the mere fact of being obese," said Urs Meyer from ETH Zurich in Switzerland.
The authors focused on a prefrontal cortex -- a brain region -- associated with the planning of complex actions and decision making, expressing one's personality and controlling one's social behaviour.
Adolescents eating high-fat diets were found to have cognitive deficits due to the immature character of the prefrontal cortex during this time frame.
"We saw that plasticity in the prefrontal cortex was impaired in animals fed high-fat foods during adolescence and quite remarkably we then observed that when restoring reelin levels, both synaptic plasticity and cognitive functions went back to normal," explained Pascale Chavis from the INMED Institute in France.
A careful nutritional balance during this sensitive period is pivotal for reaching the full capacity of adult prefrontal functions, the researchers said, in the paper published in the journal "Molecular Psychiatry".