Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by a loss of communication between brain cells, which eventually leads to memory loss.
Mounting evidence shows that lifestyle habits are powerful determinants of memory loss, and researchers are now highlighting foods to avoid at all costs.
A large number of studies have found that diet is necessary to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. It has long been known that diets focused on omega-3s are optimal for brain health.
In a new study, researchers highlight the harmful effects of eating processed foods, and warn that it can cause “significant memory deficits” in just four weeks.
New research sheds light on the protective effects of omega-3s on the brain, showing that it almost completely reduces dementia-related inflammatory effects in older rats.
The findings, published in the journal Brain Behavior and Immunity, suggest that omega-3 DHA may counteract the inflammatory effects of processed foods.
The team warned against processed foods for brain health, explaining that inflammation in the brain appeared after only four weeks of eating refined foods.
“The fact that we’re seeing these effects so quickly is a bit troubling,” said lead study author Ruth Barrientos, of The Ohio State University Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research. “With aging, rapid memory decline is more likely to occur in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. By recognizing this, perhaps we can reduce processed foods in our diets and increase consumption of foods rich in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to either prevent or slow this progression.”
To determine these effects, the researchers produced food that resembled products that were packaged with a long shelf life, such as potato chips and other snacks.
Then they assigned the three- and 24-month-old mice to their normal food, processed food, or the same omega-3 DHA-prepared diet.
The results revealed a significant rise in inflammatory markers among the rodents that ate the processed diet alone.
Older mice on a processed diet showed noticeable signs of memory loss that were not evident in the young rodents.
Conversely, rodents destined for processed foods supplemented with DHA were protected against inflammatory responses and memory loss.
The team concluded that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA prevented memory loss and inflammatory effects almost completely in mice.
Barrientos added: “These are the types of diets that are advertised as low in fat, but highly processed. They don’t have fiber but refined carbohydrates also known as low-quality carbohydrates. People who are used to looking at nutritional information need to pay attention to the fiber and its quality in Carbohydrates. And this study really shows that these things matter.”
The rodents forgot their time in unfamiliar places within a few days, indicating damage to the hypothalamus.
Moreover, they seemed less receptive to signals of fear, suggesting possible abnormalities in the amygdala.
“The amygdala has been implicated in memories associated with emotional, fearful and anxiety-inducing events. If this area of the brain is malfunctioning, signals that predict danger may be missed and may lead to poor decisions,” Barrientos added.
The researcher stressed that the results should not be interpreted as a license for people to eat processed foods as long as they take a DHA supplement.
Instead, Barrientos explained, focusing on improving the diet is the safest bet for staving off memory loss.