A Western Diet Can Impair Brain Function While Causing Obesity, Study Finds

Delicious hamburger.

As it turned out, the typical western diet consisting of sugary foods and fast food can do even more harm to the body, new research has revealed.

Aside from cardiovascular disease, obesity and other health issues, such a diet also impairs brain function and appetite control, according to the study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

In the experiment conducted by British, Australian, and American researchers, 110 lean and healthy students between the ages of 20-23 were split into two groups.

The first group ate their normal diet for a week, while the other group were given fast food, Belgian waffles and sugary foods, reports The Guardian. Those who followed the western diet for seven days not only ended up performing worse on memory tests but also craved more junk food after having full sets of meals.

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Based on the findings, the diet became difficult to quit because it prevents the hippocampus, the region in the brain that facilitates memory and regulating food intake, from functioning properly. 

“After a week on a western-style diet, palatable food such as snacks and chocolate becomes more desirable when you are full,” Macquarie University professor of psychology Richard Stevenson was quoted as saying. “This will make it harder to resist, leading you to eat more, which in turn generates more damage to the hippocampus and a vicious cycle of overeating.”

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A functioning hippocampus, Stevenson notes, blocks out memories related to food when we are full to keep us from having unnecessary cravings. When it’s impaired, memories related to food end up flooding our brains.

“Across these pre- and post-meal tests, wanting ratings declined far more than ratings of taste liking,” the study noted. “This manifestation of appetitive control — that is the expectation that food is less desirable than it actually tastes — changed in participants following the Western-style dietary intervention.”

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Previous research in rats and other animals have initially discovered the link between hippocampal function and junk food, the Indepedent noted.

While Stevenson admits that further research is needed to establish a more definitive link, he says he recognizes how the findings could be worrying for everyone. He added that public health officials could look into possible restrictions on processed junk food similar to that of tobacco use.

What’s promising, however, is that a balanced diet can apparently reverse the hippocampal damage. The study found that the group that had been on the western diet showed results similar to the control group, three weeks after their diets returned to normal.

Feature Image via Getty

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