The brain functions on a series of transmissions of signals from neurons and in return releases selected chemicals within the body, known as neurotransmitters.

A diet rich in saturated fat independent of weight gain and related metabolic changes impairs sensitivity to the rewarding and locomotor effects of AMPH.- University of Montreal Researchers

One of these chemicals is dopamine. Touted as the reward and pleasure-driving chemical, it is also the neurotransmitter which plays a big role in motivation and the degree to which we are or aren’t motivated to complete a certain task -– like getting off the couch and go for a run.

And while scientists have long known about this relationship and have been researching dopamine’s role and effects, new research offers insight into the role that fat consumption may have on this neurotransmitter, and on your motivation as a result.

In a study, published by the University of Montreal, researchers showed that rats who overconsumed saturated fat had decreased function in mesolimbic dopamine release and signaling. The consumption of monounsaturated fat did not yield the same results.

In fact, the study showed that intake of saturated lipids can suppress dopamine signaling, which leads toward a decrease in motivation. When this was compared to an intake of the equivalent amount of monounsaturated fat, the outcome showed that this type of fat can protect against these changes and better sustain the body’s natural propensity towards reward and motivation.

It has long been recognized that consumption of dietary fat can contribute to issues of physical health, such as cardiovascular disease and obesity. Less research has been released on its effects on mental health and brain function. The increasing trend towards using fat as fuel, however, and its apparent energy-boosting benefits have led researchers to gain a deeper understanding of fat’s impact on the brain.

One of these areas which has shown up is in the brain’s reward circuitry system. The precise means by which saturated fats alter the brain chemistry is still not fully understood, but some researchers are seeing that it works partly by changing the expression of dopamine-related genes. This, in turn, affects how the body receives and sends signals related to motivation and reward.

Dropping this into context, the research offers further evidence toward the need to reduce intake of saturated fat in the diet, not only from a health condition perspective but also to allow for better brain function when it comes to motivation and reward.

The intake of saturated fat, which contributes to obesity, is also a leading contributor to one’s lack of motivation, which could have an impact when it comes to things requiring a high motivational input, such as exercise. The lack of motivation and exercise further perpetuate the potential obesity problem, and as such the cycle feeds itself.

Monounsaturated fat intake may be able to protect against these motivational declines and the consumption of olive oil and other monounsaturated fat sources is highly encouraged.

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