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Junk Food Blamed for those Memory Lapses

Junk food and memory

Having trouble focusing? Lost your keys (again)? Perhaps you should take a look at what you have eaten this week. A new study suggests that consuming junk food can affect the brain - even after only one week.

You know that there are a lot of factors that can lead to memory loss, such as poor sleep habits or even certain medications. There is even research to suggest that good oral care can potentially save your brain. Fortunately, many of these factors are fixable. Another lifestyle habit that could potentially help with your poor memory is improving your diet.

Many studies have linked poor eating habits with future dementia risk including this one published in the April 30 2103 issue of the journal Neurology, but most have suggested that the effects take place over a longer period of time. New research from the University of New South Wales suggests that even a short term splurge on high fat/high sugar foods can restrict cognitive abilities.

For one week, animal subjects were assigned to one of three meal plans: a healthy diet, an unhealthy diet emphasizing foods such as cake and chips, and a diet that combines mostly healthy foods and beverages of sugar water (an experimental diet to specifically evaluate the role that sugar plays in cognitive function.)

Both the “junk food” diet and the sugar water diet affected the rats after only one week. The most typical symptom was the reduced ability to recognize certain objects. The lab animals displayed signs of inflammation in the brain’s hippocampal area, the center associated with spatial memory. This suggests that the inflammatory responses recorded in obese people may not be limited to fat tissue.

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While scientists have long recognized the inflammation caused by obesity in other areas of the body, this is among the first to study changes in the brain.

According to senior author Margaret Morris, the results suggest that even a temporary diet high in sugar and fat may have alarming consequences.

"What is so surprising about this research is the speed with which the deterioration of the cognition occurred,” she said in a press release. “Our preliminary data also suggests that the damage is not reversed when the rats are switched back to a healthy diet, which is very concerning.”

Morris concludes by saying, “While nutrition affects the brain at every age, it is critical as we get older and may be important in preventing cognitive decline. An elderly person with poor diet may be more likely to have problems. ”

In past studies, the diet linked most closely with brain benefits has been the Mediterranean diet. Consuming fresh foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish while limiting processed foods, most meats and dairy seems to be most protective over the long term. Other habits you should resolve to make your own include controlling chronic disease symptoms such as blood pressure and blood sugar and avoiding tobacco.

Journal Reference:
JE Beilharz, J Maniam, MJ Morris. Short exposure to a diet rich in both fat and sugar or sugar alone impairs place, but not object recognition memory in rats. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity
Available online 3 December 2013