I was recently pointed to an article in The Telegraph with the headline “Dieting forces brain to eat itself, scientists claim.” Of course I read it. How could I not?
It started off fairly benign, telling me things that I already knew, but that were apparently surprising to a lot of folks:
Like other parts of the body, brain cells begin to eat themselves as a last-ditch source of energy to ward off starvation, a study found.
Well, yes. When you starve yourself, your body tries every trick in the book to get extra energy, and your fat cells are usually the last source of energy to be used. Your fat is there to protect you from serious, long-term starvation. By the time you’re tapping in to that, you’re doing significant damage to your organs and muscles, including your heart and, apparently, your brain.
So, knowing that dieting leads to your brain cannibalizing itself, what conclusions might you draw from this information?
- Dieting makes you stupid. This was Bradon’s suggestion. While it’s a pretty problematic statement for a lot of reasons, I do appreciate the pithiness of it.
- Perhaps dieting isn’t as safe as the general population has been led to believe. Perhaps dieting carries its own risks, and is just as dangerous (if not more dangerous) than being fat. If your body is eating its own brain cells to stay alive, perhaps dieting is doing you serious physical harm. I mean, isn’t that what they warned us that drugs would do? Perhaps, if scientists have found that dieting causes brain damage, there should be more studies done to determine the amount of damage done, as well as other potential health problems caused by dieting.
And what conclusion did the scientists draw from the data?
Tests on mice found that stopping the brain cells from eating themselves – a process known as autophagy – prevented levels of hunger from rising in response to starvation.
The chemical change in their brains caused the mice to become lighter and slimmer after a period of fasting, the researchers reported in the journal Cell Metabolism.
Yeah, okay, we stopped the brain from systematically destroying itself, but more importantly it made the mice thin! Look! Thinness! We can totally market this!
No one seemed to ask why the brain cells starting eating themselves, or what the biological and philosophical implications of this might be. No, no, we’ll march straight to the conclusion that will result in a new! weightloss! treatment!
This is why I get shouty about this shit.