Common food oil in the U.S. could causes gene changes in the brain

Used for fast food frying, added to packaged foods, and fed to livestock, soybean oil is by far the most widely produced and consumed edible oil in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But in a recent study from UC Riverside, researchers found soybean oil not only leads to obesity and diabetes, but could also affect neurological conditions like autism, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, and depression.

In all likelihood, it is not healthy for humans. It certainly is not good for mice.

The study is published in the journal Endocrinology. The lead author is Margarita Curras-Collazo, a UCR associate professor of neuroscience.

The team previously had found in 2015 that soybean oil induces obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, and fatty liver in mice.

Then in a 2017 study, they found that if soybean oil is engineered to be low in linoleic acid, it induces less obesity and insulin resistance.

In the current study, the team compared mice fed three different diets high in fat: soybean oil, soybean oil modified to be low in linoleic acid, and coconut oil.

They did not find any difference between the modified and unmodified soybean oil’s effects on the brain.

Specifically, the scientists found pronounced effects of the oil on the hypothalamus, where a number of critical processes take place.

The hypothalamus regulates body weight via the metabolism, maintains body temperature, and is critical for reproduction and physical growth as well as the response to stress.

The team found a number of genes in mice fed soybean oil were not functioning correctly.

One such gene produces the “love” hormone, oxytocin. In soybean oil-fed mice, levels of oxytocin in the hypothalamus went down.

The research team discovered roughly 100 other genes also affected by the soybean oil diet.

They believe this discovery could have ramifications not just for energy metabolism, but also for proper brain function and diseases such as autism or Parkinson’s disease.

However, it is important to note there is no proof the oil causes these diseases.

Additionally, the team notes the findings only apply to soybean oil—not to other soy products or to other vegetable oils.

A caveat for readers concerned about their most recent meal is that this study was conducted on mice, and mouse studies may not translate to the same results in humans.

Identifying the compounds responsible for the negative effects is an important area for the team’s future research.

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