Junk food could damage your memory

Last updated 10:39 19/12/2013

WORTH IT? Damaging in more ways than one.

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Forget the damage to your waistline - over-indulging at Christmas could take its toll on your brain cells, too.

Eating a diet loaded with saturated fat and sugar may have an immediate effect on the brain's cognitive ability and cause memory loss, a University of New South Wales study has found.

''We know obesity causes inflammation in the body, but we didn't realise until recently that it causes changes in the brain,'' said Margaret Morris, the head of pharmacology at the University of NSW.

The study examined memory in rats and found that exposure to junk food over just six days reduced spatial recognition - or ability to notice when an object had been moved to a new location.

Professor Morris said the speed with which the deterioration occurred was alarming, with a spatial memory loss appearing long before any weight gain.

''After consuming a high sugar and fat diet for one week, we found that the hippocampus, the brain structure which is critical for learning and memory, had increased inflammation,'' said Professor Morris.

''Our preliminary data also indicates that the damage is not reversed when the rats are switched back to a healthy diet.''

In humans, spatial memory is essential in navigation and recalling where everyday items are, such as car keys, wallets or mobile phones.

The study, in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, showed some aspects of the rats' memory was preserved, regardless of diet.

Professor Morris said while it was difficult to project rat data on to humans, there is evidence that short-term exposure to junk food could affect human memory.

- Daily Life

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