Eating a diet of highly processed foods could seriously damage your memory, a study on rats suggests.
The results showed a diet high in foods like soft drinks, crisps, sweets, ice-cream and packaged soups is linked to neuroinflammation and cognitive problems.
However, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA almost completely reverses this effect — even in older rats.
Foods high in DHA are many seafoods (salmon, oysters, cod, canned tuna), goat cheese and grass fed beef.
The study saw rats fed a diet that mimics a standard modern western diet rich in highly processed foods.
Another group were given the highly processed diet along with DHA supplementation.
Eating a highly processed diet caused inflammation in critical areas of the brain, including the hippocampus and amygdala.
The amygdala plays a role in emotions like fear and anxiety, while the hippocampus is vital for memory.
Co-author of the study, Dr Ruth Barrientos, said:
“The fact we’re seeing these effects so quickly is a little bit alarming.
These findings indicate that consumption of a processed diet can produce significant and abrupt memory deficits—and in the aging population, rapid memory decline has a greater likelihood of progressing into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
By being aware of this, maybe we can limit processed foods in our diets and increase consumption of foods that are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to either prevent or slow that progression.”
Lion’s mane mushroom and memory
Another substance that can protect the brain and memory is lion’s mane mushroom.
Lion's mane has been found to stimulate the production of neurotrophic factors in the brain, which are essentially proteins that support the growth and survival of neurons. This can lead to improved cognitive function (including memory) and overall brain health.
It’s also been linked to improvements in memory and concentration. In fact, some studies have suggested that it may even help prevent or alleviate symptoms of cognitive decline in aging populations.
The study was published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (Butler et al., 2021).