Lucia Noterpek Ph.D

Oct 2, 2019 

In 1826, French lawyer and politician Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin coined the aphorism: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” This idiom—boiled down to “you are what you eat”— has been repeated for decades, by parents and peers alike, who remind us to eat healthy. While it is not well understood how peripheral nerves benefit from dietary lipids, laboratory investigations in animal models of neurological disorders indicate that dietary lipid supplementation, or substitution (replacing certain lipids with those that are being studied), can positively impact the nervous system. The beneficial effects of specific lipids have been observed in models of multiple sclerosis and inherited peripheral neuropathies. Which was the subject of our recent study.

Our nerves are protected by a lipid-enriched membrane called myelin, which is fundamental in supporting the proper conduction of electrical impulses in the nervous system. Myelin contains high levels of lipids, including phospholipids and neutral lipids such as cholesterol. Changes in the lipid composition of nerves have been described in neurological diseases. Therefore, as a proof-of concept exploratory study we utilized a commercially available high fat diet (HFD) formulation, to examine the influence of dietary lipids on neuropathy severity in a mouse model, called Trembler J (Zhou et al., 2019). The nerves of these animals have severe deficits in myelin, which lead to pronounced functional effects with age. Mice were assigned at a young age to a control diet (CD) or HFD for 6 weeks, while their nerves were still being myelinated and the myelin deficits just begun to exhibit symptoms. At the end of the study, we examined the peripheral nerves and found the animals on the HFD had healthier nerves, with more myelinated fibers and markers of nerve inflammation and myelin pathology were reduced. While this pilot study did not utilize an optimal healthy lipid-rich diet, it demonstrated to us that dietary lipids have a discernable impact on nerves, which could be optimized to help protect and repair damaged myelin.

Our effort in developing a healthy lipid-enriched diet, or a supplement, to protect and repair myelin is also supported by numerous epidemiological studies that show benefits of good dietary fats on the nervous system, and on the management of chronic pain. Our long-term goal is to develop a food-based lipid supplement that will not only help peripheral nerves, but will also be part of a well-balanced diet. An optimal diet formulation should promote longevity and the maintenance of normal body weight, without increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease.

For further details please see

Zhou Y, Lee S, Bazick, H, Miles J, Fethiere AI, Salihi MOA, Fazio S, Tavori H, Fazio S, Notterpek L. A neutral lipid-enriched diet alleviates peripheral nerve pathology and improves myelination in neuropathic mice. Experimental Neurology. 2019 Nov; 321:113031