Most people have a guilty pleasure food that they turn to when they fancy a treat, whether it be cake, chocolate or a fast food meal, however alarming new research has claimed that these unhealthy indulgences could actually trigger mental decline.
A study, conducted by the Australian National University and published in Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, found that the modern diets enjoyed by most Aussies today aren’t just causing expanding waistlines, but could also cause dementia.
According to the research the average person now consumes around 650 calories more each day than they did 50 years ago, which equates to an extra fast-food burger meal on a daily basis.
Lead author Professor Nicolas Cherbuin said brain health can decline much earlier in life than previously thought due to a society that promotes unhealthy lifestyle choices.
“People are eating away at their brain with a really bad fast-food diet and little-to-no exercise,” Cherbuin said.
“We’ve found strong evidence that people’s unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise for sustained periods of time puts them at serious risk of developing type 2 diabetes and significant declines in brain function, such as dementia and brain shrinkage.”
According to the research – which reviewed results from about 200 international studies – around 30 per cent of the world’s adult population is either overweight or obese, with more than 10 per cent of adults worldwide expected to suffer from type 2 diabetes within the next decade.
However, while the link between diabetes and declining brain function is well known, experts are now concerned with the link between poor diet and brain health.
“The link between type 2 diabetes and the rapid deterioration of brain function is already well established,” Cherbuin said.
“But our work shows that neurodegeneration sets in much, much earlier – we’ve found a clear association between this brain deterioration and unhealthy lifestyle choices.
“The damage done is pretty much irreversible once a person reaches midlife, so we urge everyone to eat healthy and get in shape as early as possible – preferably in childhood but certainly by early adulthood.”
Cherbuin said the additional calories being consumed by today’s society is “a big worry”, adding that people are eating too much of the wrong kind of food, particularly fast food.
He added: “As a society, we need to stop asking, ‘do you want fries with that?’, and the mindset that comes with it. If we don’t, then expect to see more overweight and obese people suffering from serious diseases.”
Cherbuin also said current efforts to guard against declining brain health were often a case of “too little, too late”.
“Many people who have dementia and other signs of cognitive dysfunction, including shrinking brains, have increased their risk throughout life by eating too much bad food and not exercising enough,” he added.
“One of the best chances people have of avoiding preventable brain problems down the track is to eat well and exercise from a young age.”
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