Dr Hilary issues warning about missed dementia diagnoses
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A large number of studies have converged that diet is essential to reducing the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. It has long been known that diets that emphasise omega-3 are optimal for brain health. In a new study, researchers have highlighted the damaging effects of eating processed foods, warning it may cause “significant memory deficits”, in just four weeks.
New research has highlighted the protective effects of omega-3 for the brain, showing that it reduces inflammatory effects linked to dementia almost entirely in older rats.
Published in the journal Brain Behaviour and Immunity, the findings 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 was evident after just four weeks of eating refined foods.
Senior author of the study Ruth Barrientos, at the Ohio State University Institute for Behavioural Medicine Research, 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 deficit and in the ageing population, rapid memory decline has a greater likelihood of progressing into neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease.
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“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.”
To determine these effects, the researchers produced food that resembles products packaged for long shelf life, such as potato chips and other snacks.
They then assigned three-month-old and 24-month old rats to their normal food, processed food, or the same processed diet supplemented with omega-3 DHA.
Results revealed a significant elevation in inflammation markers among the rodents who ate the processed diet alone.
Older rats on the processed diet showed significant signs of memory loss that weren’t evident in young rodents.
Conversely, rodents assigned the DHA-supplemented processed food were protected against inflammatory responses and memory loss.
The team concluded that omega-3 fatty acid DHA prevented memory loss and prevented inflammatory effects almost entirely in rats.
Barrientos added: “These are the types of diets that are advertised as being low in fat, but they’re highly processed.
“They have no fibre and have refined carbohydrates that are also known as low-quality carbohydrates.
“Folks who are used to looking at nutritional information need to pay attention to the fibre and quality of carbohydrates. This study really shows these things are important.”
The rodents forgot about time spent in unfamiliar places in just a few days, suggesting there was damage to the hypothalamus.
What’s more, they appeared less receptive to fear cues, suggesting there may be abnormalities in the amygdala.
Barrientos added: “The amygdala in humans has been implicated in memories associated with emotional, fear and anxiety-producing events.
“If this region of the brain is dysfunctional, cues that predict danger may be missed and could lead to bad decisions.”
The researcher stressed the results should not be interpreted as a licence for people to eat processed food as long as they take a DHA supplement.
Instead, Barrientos explained, focussing on dietary improvements is the safest bet to stave off memory loss.
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