The impact of unhealthy food on human memory

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Food addiction is akin to drug addiction, it is psychological in nature and is not caused by a feeling of hunger. A person wants not just to eat, but to eat tasty, but unhealthy food – usually sweet and fatty.

The hippocampus, one of the most important parts of the brain, is responsible for emotions, is involved in the formation of memory and its transition from short-term to long-term, and is also responsible for spatial memory and navigation.

Numerous animal studies prove that even short-term consumption of unhealthy foods rich in saturated fats and sugar leads to disorders in the hippocampus associated with memory impairment.

New data from humans suggest a similar conclusion.

The impact of unhealthy food on human memory

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Although it is well established that the main functions of the hippocampus are related to memory, however, they extend to many other areas, including appetite regulation.

Evidence suggests that the more a person consumes unhealthy foods high in fat and sugar, the more likely they are to perform poorly on neuropsychological tasks dependent on the hippocampus.

Eating unhealthy foods can alter the hippocampus' ability to control appetite and, like drug addiction, create a persistent craving for tasty but unhealthy foods.

If the functions of the hippocampus are impaired, this makes appetite regulation less effective.

As a consequence, the perception of food cues triggers associative networks associated with receiving that food, including food memories and/or activation of reward-producing brain regions, regardless of interoceptive state.

Interoception is a process of information interactions involving receptors located in internal organs.

Therefore, unhealthy food eventually leads to overeating, obesity and a host of health problems.

The impact of unhealthy food on human memory

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A study was conducted that studied what happens to the body after one week of eating unhealthy food. Half of the study participants stuck to their regular diet for a week. The other half ate unhealthy foods high in fat, carbohydrates and sugar.

All participants underwent memory tests before and after the experiment. The tests showed lower results for the group of participants who ate the unhealthy food during the week. But more importantly, they also showed deterioration in hippocampal function immediately after just one meal of unhealthy food.

Also, some studies have shown that the hippocampus plays a role in appetite regulation and food selection, but it was not able to do this job properly after the study participant ate a plate of Belgian waffles. Even after saturation, the subject did not receive the necessary signals that it was time to stop eating.

The impact of unhealthy food on human memory

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Guided by memories of the pleasure of eating delicious food, a person forgets about less tasty, albeit healthy food. As a result, it becomes difficult to stop eating unhealthy foods.

In the minds of people, the idea is deeply rooted that the brain needs as much glucose as possible for better functioning, and, for example, before an exam, it is necessary to eat sweets to improve memory.

In fact, the situation is exactly the opposite. Sweets do not improve, but worsen memory and cognitive functions of the brain.

Apparently, the myth about the use of sweets to improve brain function is based on the fact that the brain, like all other organs, runs on glucose. But, not only sugar, but also any other food, after digestion in the gastrointestinal tract, gives glucose, which serves as fuel for the entire body, including the brain.

Another thing is that the brain is the most energy-intensive organ. Energy consumption for the work of the brain is approximately 20% of the energy of the whole organism. However, this does not mean that you need to consume sugar for the normal functioning of the brain and good memory.

The impact of unhealthy food on human memory

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Any food gives us energy, and for the full functioning of the whole organism, all nutritional components are important – proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals.

Normal brain function and cognitive functions are more dependent on the qualitative and quantitative composition of the intestinal microflora, but in no case on the amount of glucose in the blood.

In contrast to unhealthy foods, the dietary fiber found in vegetables and fruits is extremely important for overall health and brain health in particular. Dietary fiber changes the contents of the gastrointestinal tract and affects the absorption of nutrients.

Dietary fiber contributes to the growth and bacterial diversity of the intestinal microflora, which has a positive effect on health. Gut bacteria produce butyrate and other microbial metabolites that have positive effects on the brain and protect nerves and brain cells from degeneration.