There’s little doubt that the eating junk food comes with myriad negative physical effects on the body. But current research suggests these foods are seriously affecting our brain health, too.
Here are four things that happen to our brains when we eat junk food. The first one sounds positive, but it’s all downhill from there…
Our pleasure centre is triggered.
When we eat high-sugar junk food, the sweet stuff rushes to the pleasure centre in the brain, releasing our feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin.
And if we keep eating it, we build up a tolerance to its warm and fuzzy effects, much like an addict builds up a tolerance to drugs. This means we end up craving (and eating) more and more to get the same high, and the addiction cycle takes hold. It can become so intense, some studies suggest that this particular white stuff could actually be more addictive than cocaine.
And obesity might exacerbate sugar addiction even further. A new study shows that people of a healthy weight tend to have fewer sugar-craving dopamine receptors the older they get. But it’s not the same for obese individuals, suggesting that their brains are somehow altered in a way to prefer sweets even more.
Our ability to understand hunger gets all out of whack.
Hungry all the time? Research shows that consuming high-fructose foods can impair ghrelin suppression (the hormone that tells the brain we’re hungry) and suppress leptin (the hormone that tells the brain we’re full). Sugar also causes inflammation in the hippocampus, which plays a big role in the brain receiving all those “I’m full now” signals from the body.
It’s a perfect storm that leaved the brain totally confused about how hungry or full we are. Which can cause us to eat much more than we usually would.
Our learning and memory systems go down…
The hippocampus is tasked with other (super important) brain functions like memory, learning and neurogenesis (umbrella term: neuroplasticity).
An inflamed one can therefore impede our ability to form new memories, learn things quickly and adapt to new environments. Yikes!
Emerging research even suggests that Western diets could be linked to a smaller hippocampus. Which is pretty alarming – the hippocampus is really not a part of the brain we want to shrink if we can help it.
While our risk of mental health disorders and decline goes up.
Our junk food habits could be contributing to mental health issues and cognitive decline in a very real way. A poor diet (diets low in nutrients and high in sugar and fat) is linked to a greater risk of depression.
Recent science also suggests a link between high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance (commonly associated with diabetes) and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Some researches have even gone so far as to call Alzheimer’s “type 3 diabetes”.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?