Sidra Medicine Study Reveals Impact of Highly Processed Foods on Brain Metabolism and Sense of Smell


24 January 2024, Doha, Qatar – Researchers at Sidra Medicine, a member of Qatar Foundation, in collaboration with teams from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil) and Monell Chemical Senses Center (USA), have published a groundbreaking study in the journal Molecular Metabolism, demonstrating how the short-term consumption of highly processed diets can impair brain metabolism and the sense of smell (olfactory) functions in mice.  

Led by Dr. Luis R. Saraiva, Principal Investigator and A/Director of the Human Disease Modeling and Therapeutics Division at Sidra Medicine, the research team undertook the study to explore the short-term impact of consuming highly processed foods, especially in light of increasing global obesity rates and health concerns.

The study involved an elaborate experimental design where mice, over a period of less than two months were fed three distinct diets: a standard grain-based chow diet, a highly processed control diet, and a highly processed high-fat diet.

Researchers conducted a comprehensive series of tests, including behavioral and metabolic phenotyping, electro-olfactogram recordings, brain glucose metabolism imaging, and mitochondrial respirometry. Advanced (ribonucleic acid) RNA-sequencing was performed on samples from the nose and various brain regions to understand the genetic impact.

Dr. Melanie Makhlouf, co-first author of the paper from Sidra Medicine said: “Our study found that even short periods of highly processed food consumption are sufficient to cause early olfactory and brain abnormalities, which has the potential to alter food choices and influence the risk of developing metabolic disease. The findings are a stark reminder of the swift and adverse effects that processed foods can have on key biological systems. It also highlights the potential risks associated with even short-term indulgence in processed foods, a concern given how processed foods have become a staple in many household diets.”

The study, co-funded by Sidra Medicine and a grant from Qatar National Research Fund2, adds to the existing literature on the health impacts of processed foods and raises essential questions about dietary choices in contemporary society.

“Sidra Medicine is renowned for its commitment to pioneering research and innovation and the results of this particular study are a wake-up call. They show how quickly diets high in processed foods can lead to changes in brain functions, which could potentially influence behaviors and food choices. This research will have significant implications for dietary guidelines, public health policies, and future research directions in nutrition and neurology,” said Dr. Saraiva.