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Diet Awareness Behavior Brain and Mental Performance

Junk Food Diets Can Cause Long-Term Damage To The Brain

1 month ago

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Posted on Apr 18, 2024, 6 p.m.

New research from the University of Southern California published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity on the effects of junk food diets reinforces scientific understanding of the gut-brain connection, finding that feasting on a high-fat sugary diet raises the possibility that a junk food-filled diet in teen years may disrupt brain memory ability for a long time.

"What we see not just in this paper, but in some of our other recent work, is that if these rats grew up on this junk food diet, then they have these memory impairments that don't go away," said Scott Kanoski, a professor of biological sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. "If you just simply put them on a healthy diet, these effects unfortunately last well into adulthood."

In developing this study, the researchers considered prior work showing a link between poor diet and Alzheimer’s disease, and that those affected by the debilitating disease tend to have lower levels of the brain neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is essential for memory and functions like learning, attention, arousal and involuntary muscle movement. 

The team was curious what this could mean for younger people on a fat-filled sugary Western-style diet, especially during adolescence when the brain is undergoing significant development. To investigate this the team tracked the impact of the diet on rat levels of acetylcholine with memory testing to learn more about the relationship between diet and memory. The acetylcholine levels of rats on this diet and a control group were tracked by analyzing their brain responses to tasks designed to test memory and examining their brain post-mortem for signs of disrupted acetylcholine levels. 

Memory testing involved letting the animals explore new objects in different locations, then days later reintroducing them to the nearly identical scene that had the addition of one new object. Rats on the junk food diet showed signs of not remembering which objects they had previously seen and where, while those in the control group showed familiarity.

"Acetylcholine signaling is a mechanism to help them encode and remember those events, analogous to 'episodic memory' in humans that allows us to remember events from our past," lead author Hayes explained. "That signal appears to not be happening in the animals that grew up eating the fatty, sugary diet."

 "I don't know how to say this without sounding like Cassandra and doom and gloom," he said, "but unfortunately, some things that may be more easily reversible during adulthood are less reversible when they are occurring during childhood."

The researchers found a glimmer of hope for intervention, finding in additional studies that the junk food-induced memory damage could be reversed with medication that induces the release of acetylcholine. According to the researchers, the drugs PNU-282987 and carbachol given directly to the hippocampus restored the rat’s memory ability. However, without that special intervention, more research is required to determine how memory problems induced by a junk food diet during adolescence could be reversed. 

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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References/Sources/Materials provided by:

https://today.usc.edu/take-it-from-the-rats-a-junk-food-diet-can-cause-long-term-damage-to-adolescent-brains/

https://www.usc.edu/

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2024.03.015

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