Friday, Mar 1, 2024

Consuming this popular food regularly for just one month could cause memory loss and lead to dementia

Consuming this popular food regularly for just one month could cause memory loss and lead to dementia
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It seems that the older I get, it's harder to recall things from last month or last week. This I have been putting down to "senior moments", which my mother laughs at and accepted as a natural part of aging. A new study has made me question if my forgetfulness is due to my declining years, or my afternoon snack of Cheez-Its.

Researchers at The Ohio State University gave two groups of rats (one young, one old) a diet high on refined carbohydrates, such as those found in processed foods. The results were published in the Brain Behavior and Immunity journal in 2021. Think potato chips, frozen pizzas, deli meats with preservatives, and yes, Cheez Its. The rats died after four weeks of eating junk food. They were unable to recall where they had been and showed no fear when confronted with imminent danger.

The memory loss and inappropriate responses of the younger rats that ate processed foods were not evident. The same was true for the control group. Both young and old were fed their usual diet which included a healthy mixture of complex carbs, protein, and fat.

Alarming Results

Ruth Barrientos (lead author of the study), stated in a university press release that "these findings indicate that consumption a processed diet may cause significant and abrupt memories deficit." Barrientos, an assistant professor of psychiatry, behavioral health, and an investigator at The Ohio State University Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research agrees that four weeks is a short time frame to witness such dramatic effects. "The fact that we are seeing these effects so quickly can be a little alarming."

These rats are being brainwashed to forget where they were and to not react to danger. The problem is in the hippocampus which plays an important role in memory and learning, as well as the amygdala which regulates emotions.

Research showed that rats with a high intake of refined carbs caused an inflammation response in these brain regions. The rats lost their ability to recognize danger cues and forgot they had just spent time in unfamiliar spaces. This inflammation may indicate problems with the hippocampus.

There is reason to be hopeful

Barrientos stated that this study has more important implications for seniors. Rapid memory decline in the elderly is more likely to lead to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease.

In other words, those "senior moments", which my mom jokes about, aren't always as harmless as we would like. It's one thing for me to forget where you went when I entered a room. But if these small errors in my memory make me more susceptible to developing dementia, I will take them seriously.

There is hope. A second group of older rats was fed junk food with DHA supplements. In this group, there were no signs of memory loss or inflammatory neurological reactions.

DHA supplementation: Is it the solution?

Docosahexaenoic Acid, or DHA is an omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish like salmon and tuna. It's been known for years that omega-3 fatty acid rich diets are good for the heart and prevent aging. But can DHA supplements allow us to indulge in processed foods without worrying about triggering inflammation or memory loss?

Barrientos says no. Barrientos says no. Although DHA supplementation appeared to have a protective effect in rats' brains, there are some caveats.

Scientists don't know how much DHA rats consumed because they had unlimited access both to food and DHA supplements. This means that they are unable to recommend a DHA dose that could prevent brain inflammation.

Second, rats fed processed food gained "significant" weight. Older rats gained more than younger rats. While weight gain is not the same as dementia, extra weight due to eating junk food and not building muscle can be a concern.

How to Eat Healthy

Barrientos says that avoiding processed foods and refined carbohydrates is key to mental sharpness and physical health. People who have become accustomed to looking at nutrition information should pay more attention to the quality and fiber of carbs. These are very important points, as this study demonstrates.

You want to have fewer senior moments and still fit in your favorite jeans. It's as easy as swapping out your afternoon Cheez-Its or other processed foods for some sliced apples and a few walnuts rich in omega-3 fatty acid.

I am all for a reduced risk of developing dementia if processed foods are eliminated. I think it's great fun to be more creative with my afternoon snack options. Today, I am thinking sugar snappeas. What is your favorite snack?

This article first appeared on our sister website, Woman's World.