America’s most widely consumed oil causes many neurological changes

Given its ubiquitous presence in the American diet, the observed effects of soybean oil on hypothalamic gene expression could have important public health ramifications.

Soybean oil is the most commonly used edible oil in the United States, which could be because soybeans are some of the most widely cultivated and utilized plants. Native to East Asia, soybeans are considered a legume.

Soybean oil is primarily the main ingredient in most vegetable oils. Despite having several benefits, there are some disadvantages too. According to a new study by the University of California, Riverside, soybean oil has been linked to a large number of health issues including obesity, diabetes as well as neurological conditions like autism, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, and depression.

In 2015, the same team of scientists had found that soybean oil induces obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, and fatty liver in mice. Later on, in 2017, they discovered if soybean oil is engineered to be low in linoleic acid, it induces less obesity and insulin resistance.

This new study conducted on mice tends to determine the effect on the brain. They didn’t find a significant difference between the modified and unmodified soybean oil’s impact on the brain. But, they detected a substantial difference between the modified and unmodified soybean oil’s effects on the brain.

Scientists determined various genes in mice fed soybean oil were not functioning effectively. One such gene delivers the ‘love’ hormone, oxytocin. In soybean oil-fed mice, levels of oxytocin in the hypothelamus went down.

Almost 100 genes were found to be affected by the soybean oil diet. According to scientists, the study could have ramifications not just for energy metabolism, but also for proper brain function and diseases such as autism or Parkinson’s disease.

Frances Sladek, a UCR toxicologist and professor of cell biology, said, “Do not throw out your tofu, soymilk, edamame, or soy sauce. Many soy products only contain small amounts of oil and large amounts of healthful compounds such as essential fatty acids and proteins.”

However, this study was conducted on male mice. As oxytocin is so essential for maternal health and promotes mother-child bonding, thus scientists think, further studies need to be performed using female mice.

Moreover, scientists have not isolated, which chemicals in the oil are responsible for the changes they found in the hypothalamus. But, they think- two candidates could be responsible. It is not linoleic acid since the modified oil also produced genetic disruptions; nor is it stigmasterol, a cholesterol-like chemical found naturally in soybean oil.

Poonamjot Deol, an assistant project scientist in Sladek’s laboratory and first author of the study, said, “Identifying the compounds responsible for the negative effects is an important area for the team’s future research. This could help design healthier dietary oils in the future.”

The new study, published this month in the journal Endocrinology.

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