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Hippocampus and junk food

Junk food impairs hippocampus’ ability to regulate gorging

Prior research has shown the hippocampus plays a role in regulating eating but it was not able to do its job properly after a volunteer ate a plate of Belgian waffles

A team of researchers from Australia, the US and the UK has found that eating junk food can alter the ability of the hippocampus to constrain junk food intake, after they conducted experiments on volunteers and their eating habits.  The outcomes were published in the paper, ‘Hippocampal-dependent appetitive control is impaired by experimental exposure to a Western-style diet’, in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

The researchers sought to investigate why people have such a difficult time stopping themselves from eating junk food and enlisted 110 volunteers in their early 20s who had a history of healthy eating to learn what happens to the body after one week of junk food consumption.

Half of the volunteers ate as they normally did for a week; the other half ate junk food specifically, meals high in fat, carbs and sugar. After the week was over, all of the volunteers were invited to eat breakfast together in a lab setting. Each of the volunteers was given a memory test before and after eating, along with a survey that queried them on how much they enjoyed eating the food they had been consuming over the course of the study week.

The memory tests revealed lower scores for the volunteers after eating junk food for a week. But more importantly, they also showed hippocampus impairment directly after eating a single junk food meal. Prior research has shown the hippocampus plays a role in regulating eating but it was not able to do its job properly after a volunteer ate a plate of Belgian waffles.

As a result, volunteers were not signalled to stop eating once they were full. Instead, they gorged. And after a week of gorging, the volunteers retained memories of the pleasures of gorging while forgetting those of less pleasurable foods. The result was difficulty in refraining from eating junk food.

“…one week's exposure to a Western-style diet causes a reduction in HDLM performance, in addition to alterations in appetitive control, as measured by the wanting and liking test. The magnitude of these changes in HDLM and appetitive control were strongly correlated, implying a probable common basis for these effects in the hippocampus, and thus a role for the hippocampus in appetitive control,” the authors concluded. “More broadly, this experiment, alongside those from the other animal and human studies cited here, suggests that a Western-style diet causes neurocognitive impairments following short-term exposure.”

To access this paper, please click here

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