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Unhealthy Diets and That One Lost Memory

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Every fry you eat is a memory lost. Every sip of a milkshake and out slips another from your mind. A study conducted by researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina proves that these foods go hand-in-hand with the reduction in quality and quantity of our deepest memories.

For years, it has been widely accepted that junk foods are unhealthy. Now there is data that suggests foods containing high amounts of cholesterol and saturated fats can actually impair or inhibit proper memory functioning within the brain (1).

Specifics of the study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2008, included a set of rats that were fed a strict diet of 2% cholesterol and 10% saturated fats. After just eight weeks, tests were done on the hippocampi of the rodents that measured activity and electrical waves. The hippocampus is the region of the brain that directly controls turning short-term memories into long-term memories. When compared to the amount of brain activity in the rats prior to the study, there was a significant decrease over the course of the eight weeks of poor dieting (1).

Additionally, the scientists took samples of different chemicals inside of the rats before, during, and after the study. They saw huge increases in bad substances such as total cholesterol (especially HDLs – harmful cholesterol), saturated fats, and plasma triglycerides that are unsafe for the heart (1).

In a society where the issue of obesity and unhealthy eating habits are usually in the forefront of current news, a connection of this magnitude is highly important. Obesity rates have grown exponentially without any signs of stopping in the United States. Based on the fact that being very overweight has been linked to an array of health problems, it would not come as a surprise if the study completed using rats as subjects is proven true for humans in the near future. Over time, as our collective health declines, our memories may be taking a turn for the worse.

Human diets are extremely dangerous. In more specific terms, consuming “more than four grams [of saturated fat] in an hour” (qtd. in 4) (easily achieved by many people) can lead to the buildup of plaque in arteries and ultimately an unsafe level of bad fats in the bloodstream. The plaque restricts blood flow to vital areas of the brain and inhibits its ability to form long-term and short-term memories (4).

Think of the situation as a drainage pipe beside the road. Over time, that pipe may get clogged with sticks, rocks, and trash. Soon, water will be completely unable to get through the pipe and it is backed up in the pipe. The same is true of blood in the body when poor foods are consumed. Except instead of water not draining, the brain does not get enough blood to the parts of it that control memory.

Although this test has not been run specifically on humans, if the same holds true to the human brain, “memory may be preserved and brain functions improved by restricting the consumption of cholesterol and saturated fats.” (qtd. in 2). However, even more prevalent is the looming opposite of this finding – the consumption of too many foods high in these bad substances (2).

Often foods that fit these criteria of high cholesterol and saturated fats are the same foods that contribute the most to daily calorie count. Consuming more than 2100 calories in a single day can raise the risk of memory loss by one hundred percent (3).

Some foods to stay away from if being wary of having a low cholesterol and saturated fat diet are: syrups, any grains that are not one hundred percent whole grains, foods with added sugars, and fried foods (4).

Diet plays a direct role in the health of the human body and, specifically, the brain. Before buying another hamburger off of the value menu at your local fast food restaurant, take a moment and assess if you really want to forget your first time riding a two-wheeled bike or making the winning catch at a little league baseball game.

Resources

  • Granholm A, Bimonte-Nelson HA, Moore AB, Nelson ME, Freeman LR, Sambamurti K. Effects of a saturated fat and high cholesterol diet on memory and hippocampal morphology in the middle-aged rat. J ALZ Dis. 2008 Jun; 14(2): 133-145. In: PubMed [database on the Internet] Bethesda (MD): US National Library of Medicine, c2009 [cited 2013 Sep 16]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2670571/.(1)

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