You know that awful feeling when you’re headed down a familiar road, then something happens and you get diverted and next thing you know you’re completely lost every though you know this suburb but none of the roads are where they should be and somehow you’re completely disoriented and frustrated?
That’s how your brain feels when it’s surviving on a high-fat, high-sugar diet.
A recent trial involving mice found that just four weeks of an unhealthy diet meant the mice were rendered unable to complete a battery of tests. The most pronounced change was in cognitive flexibility, or the ability to adapt to change.
Oregon State University (OSU) researcher Kathy Magnusson said, “Think about driving home on a route that’s very familiar to you, something you’re used to doing. Then one day that road is closed and you suddenly have to find a new way home.”
Mice on the high-fat, high-sugar diet found it far more difficult to do so (getting through a maze) than the mice on a healthier diet.
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Fascinatingly, it’s not the food itself that affects your brain but the changes it makes to your gut bacteria.
The brain-gut connection is one that is being studied closely as it could unlock the answers to everything from ageing to autism, from obesity to depression. And it keeps turning up the same result: health guts, health body and mind.
“It’s increasingly clear that our gut bacteria, or microbiota, can communicate with the human brain,” says Ms Magnusson. “Bacteria can release compounds that act as neurotransmitters, stimulate sensory nerves or the immune system and affect a wide range of biological functions,” she says.
Further research is needed to understand exactly how gut flora interacts with brain function, but next time you’re choosing a snack or takeaway meal, think about what you’re feeding your brain.
Will this change the way you eat? Is there room for improvement in your diet?