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New Study Finds Processed Foods Lead to Memory Loss

By Chris Brown

The high amount of processed foods in the American diet has long been the scourge of dietitians set on defeating the country's obesity pandemic. If obesity isn't reason enough to eliminate it, a new study conducted by Ohio State University found results that processed foods may have large impacts upon brain health with age. Consuming processed foods can lead to brain inflammation that results in decreased memory, especially in older adults.

What Processed Food Does to the Brain

In an Ohio State University study published in October 2021, aging rats were fed a diet of processed foods for four weeks. After only a month of the processed food diet, the rats began displaying behavioral signs of memory loss and decreased cognition. While dietitians and medical researchers alike have been aware of processed foods' damaging effects upon the body, this latest study is significant due to the speed at which these foods created behaviorally visible impacts. The same effects were not seen in younger rats. However, this may be due to their young bodies' increased ability to counter the impacts of these foods. The key to this memory loss likely lies in a previously known, and confirmed, side effect of processed foods, body and brain inflammation.

How Inflammation Impacts Memory

Brain inflammation, especially chronic brain inflammation, is linked to a number of cognitive deficits with age affecting executive function, language, and memory. A 20-year study that concluded in 2019 confirmed direct links between certain inflammatory blood biomarkers and decreased cognition. The key to preventing these cumulative cognitive impacts, such as memory deficits, is to reduce the inflammation. With processed food, the brain's inflammatory response can be lessened with certain supplementation.

How to Mitigate the Memory Impacts of Your Food

Know the effects and still can't stay away from convenient, pre-packaged foods? Fortunately, the same Ohio State University study found ways to counter its memory impacts. A theorized reason why the older rats were more effected by the processed diet is that base DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) levels are lower in older brains. Adding omega-3 supplements to the older rats' diets prevented elevated brain inflammation and memory effects, similar to the response by the younger rats. Not only does this point to omega-3 supplementation as a protectant against processed food consumption, but it suggests that it may help younger brains maintain their memory ability over a longer timeframe.

In the end, processed foods create brain inflammation that impacts memory, especially in older brains. Avoiding such foods is important for maintaining a healthy brain with age. However, as consuming some processed foods is nearly unavoidable in western diets, omega-3 supplementation may decrease the impacts of it upon brain health.

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Glen Ellyn, Ill.

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