Clinical

“Researchers find a western-style diet can impair brain function”

After a week on a high saturated fat, high added sugar diet, volunteers scored worse on memory tests


Scientists claim that consuming a western diet for as little as one week can subtly impair brain function and encourage the overeating of slim and otherwise healthy young people. Researchers found that after seven days on a high saturated fat, high added sugar diet, volunteers in their 20s performed worse on memory tests and found fast food more attractive immediately after they had finished their meal.

The result indicates that Western diet makes it more difficult for people to control their appetite, and points to dysfunction in a brain area called the hippocampus as a potential cause. Previous animal study has shown that junk food stimulates the hippocampus, the brain area involved in memory and appetite regulation. It’s not clear why, but one theory is that the hippocampus usually blocks or weakens food memories when we’re full, so looking at a cake doesn’t fill the mind with memories of how good a cake can be. “As the hippocampus works less effectively, you get this influx of memories, so food is more appealing,” Stevenson said.

Volunteers were given a western-style diet featuring generous amounts of Belgian waffles. 

The result indicates that Western diet makes it more difficult for people to control their appetite, and points to dysfunction in a brain area called the hippocampus as a potential cause. Previous animal study has shown that junk food stimulates the hippocampus, the brain area involved in memory and appetite regulation. It’s not clear why, but one theory is that the hippocampus usually blocks or weakens food memories when we’re full, so looking at a cake doesn’t fill the mind with memories of how good a cake can be. “As the hippocampus works less effectively, you get this
influx of memories, so food is more appealing,” Stevenson said.

In order to explore how the western diet influences humans, the scientists recruited 110 lean and balanced students aged 20 to 23, who usually ate a decent diet. Half of them were randomly allocated to a control group that had eaten their usual diet for a week. The other half had a high-energy western-style diet, which included a generous consumption of Belgian waffles and fast food. The volunteers ate breakfast in the lab at the beginning and the end of the week. Before and after the meal, they completed word-memory tests and scored a variety of high-sugar foods, such as Coco Pops, Frosties and Froot Loops, according to how much they desired and then enjoyed the food they had eaten. In the longer term, following a Western-style diet leads to obesity and diabetes, both of which have been related to a decrease in brain function and the likelihood of developing dementia.

Works Citation

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/feb/19/researchers-find-a-western-style-diet-can-impair-brain-function

https://www.brainfacts.org/neuroscience-in-society/neuroscience-in-the-news

Categories: Clinical