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Junk Food Can Increase Your Risk Of Dementia, Mess Up Your Immune System

First Posted: Oct 15, 2016 06:30 AM EDT
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Junk food can harm your memory as well as mess with your immune system.
(Photo : Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Health experts have always warned about the perils of consuming a junk food diet. Effects of eating burgers range from widening your waistline, increasing cholesterol levels and tighten your arteries. However, scientists have recently revealed that even before junk food can affect your weight, it may already be changing your bodies in ways you never expected. Apparently, junk food can cause a form of malnutrition that could make your immune system attack your own body.

According to Medical Xpress, factors related to metabolic syndromes can negatively affect the condition and thus count as serious risk factors for dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. The report said that 'junk food', which are mostly fat and sugar enriched foods, can seriously disorganize learning and memory functions in both human and rodents.

Given that obesity has become an epidemic and tied to impaired cognition, understanding the long-term effect of a high-fat diet (HFD) on the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning and memory processes, is important especially in children and adolescents.

Mail Online also reported that in a recent PLOS ONE article, Catrina Sims-Robinson and colleagues from the Medical University of South Carolina investigated the effect of HFD on the functions of the hippocampus and whether a reverse in the diet may save it from short and long-term changes. For the study, mice were exposed to two different diets (normal food or high-fat food) for several days.

With the use of hippocampus-dependent behavioral paradigms, such as the Novel Object Recognition (NOR) and the Morris Water Maze (MWM) tests, the authors noted that obese mice showed signs of memory loss. Obese mice were unable to distinguish objects or simply remember spatial references. They were basically lost. Surprisingly and fortunately, the effects of the HFD on the mice's memory process were entirely gone once mice were re-exposed (dietary reversal) to a normal healthy diet. The finding strongly suggests that cognitive dysfunctions induced by "junk food" may be somehow reversible.

Meanwhile, in another separate study, published in the Journal of Immunology, scientists at Australia's University of New South Wales analyzed a normal western diet, one that's high in saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. They especially looked at the diet's impact on immune cells called T lymphocytes, or T cells.

Researchers fed mice an HFD for nine weeks to check what effect it would have on the T cells before the mice gained weight. The results surprised the study's lead author Abigail Pollock. "Despite our hypothesis that the T cell response and capacity to eliminate invading pathogens would be weakened we actually saw the opposite: the percentage of overactive T cells increased," she explained.

Although having more T cells sound great, it actually isn't great news after all. AlterNet reported experts explaining that having elevated T cells doesn't mean your immune system are stronger. In fact, when the immune system goes into a frenzy, it attacks healthy parts of the body which can result in autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

These researches should encourage a more thorough investigation of the secrets of our brain and immune system, as well as exert more effort into having a much deeper understanding of how food affects mental functions and immune system. In the meantime, a healthy lunch may be the easiest solution to protect not just your brain, but your immune system as well.

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