The Most Consumed Oil In The US Also Causes Brain Changes
It's not exactly a secret that vegetable oils aren't the best type of oil for us to consume. They're loaded with saturated fats, and they lack the redemptive omega-3 fatty acids in other oils that are actually good for us. And in the case of soybean oil, it may cause changes in the brain that affect conditions like autism, Alzheimer's, anxiety, and depression.
This is according to new research out of the University of California, Riverside, which looked at the effects of soybean oil consumption on the brain.
And with the prevalence of soybean oil between fast foods and packaged foods, it's considered the most widely produced and consumed oil in the U.S. So, here's what you should know next time you spot it on your food label.
Changes in the hypothalamus.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers that had previously conducted soybean oil studies on mice. This team had already concluded a diet high in soybean oil can lead to fatty liver, insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity in mice. They also discovered when soybean oil is low in something called linoleic acid, it may result in less obesity.
So for this recent study, they looked at the brains of mice that were all fed either coconut oil, soybean oil, or genetically modified, low-linoleic acid soybean oil.
And what they found suggests soybean oil, regardless of linoleic acid levels, causes changes in the hypothalamus—a part of your brain that manages a lot of important functions like releasing hormones and regulating emotions, behavior, and sex drive.
Margarita Curras-Collazo, Ph.D., a UCR associate professor and lead author of the study, notes, "The hypothalamus regulates body weight via your metabolism, maintains body temperature, is critical for reproduction and physical growth as well as your response to stress."
It depletes oxytocin, too.
And speaking of hormones, the researchers also discovered soybean oil was negatively affecting the mice's genes. The study notes around 100 different genes were affected by soybean oil, including one that's responsible for creating oxytocin, better known as the love hormone.
But oxytocin doesn't just make us fall in love; it can also help keep anxiety and depression at bay, too. And when we aren't producing enough, it can make once enjoyable things feel pretty lackluster.
This, the team notes, could have negative effects on brain function, especially when considering people with diseases like Parkinson's and autism.
What comes next?
The study notes there is no direct proof the oil is what's causing diseases, and further, that the findings don't apply to all soy products or vegetable oils, just soybean oil.
Toxicologist and professor Frances Sladek, Ph.D., adds, "Do not throw out your tofu, soy milk, edamame, or soy sauce. Many soy products only contain small amounts of the oil, and large amounts of healthful compounds such as essential fatty acids and proteins."
The team does hope their findings will encourage healthier decisions when it comes to oils. Sladek notes, "The dogma is that saturated fat is bad and unsaturated fat is good. Soybean oil is a polyunsaturated fat, but the idea that it's good for you is just not proven."
Luckily, there are lots of healthier cooking oils available so you can ditch the soy stuff, like avocado oil, ghee, coconut oil, and EVOO. You could even substitute vegetable stock for oil when cooking, if you really wanted to. And as always, your best bet is to steer clear of fast and overly processed foods from the get-go.