Diet and dementia: Is fast food really ‘eating away your brain’?

cms

An extra burger meal a day eats the brain away,” is the sort of arresting headline you’d expect from a tabloid, but it actually comes directly from a recent university press release relating to a review of the evidence around diet and dementia, authored by Nicolas Cherbuin and Erin I. Walsh, and published in Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology. 

In the press release, which naturally stimulated much media coverage Professor Cherbuin repeats the claim that people are “eating away at their brain with a really bad fast food diet and little to no exercise,” adding that, “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.”

That’s kinda depressing, so can those sorts of soundbites be inferred from the paper? Yes and no.

What the authors have done pretty well with this review is beginning to piece together how various metabolic risk factors associated with the preclinical development of type 2 diabetes, along with factors such as obesity, physical activity, and diet, might impact brain health and contribute to degenerative processes in the brain.

d today cheesy french fry bourbon burgers fit w

Their analysis unearths good evidence that high fasting blood glucose (FBG) and low levels of physical exercise are associated with a decline in both brain volume and cognitive function.

It also outlines decent evidence that a poor diet, defined as high in fat, high in high glycemic index (fast-releasing) carbohydrates and low in fiber is linked with high fasting blood glucose.

It finds only weak evidence for a direct link between BMI and high FBG, though the authors do fill in the gaps a bit in terms of the association between obesity and type 2 diabetes.

What the authors don’t have is the one study that links all of these together, and they also don’t have evidence in terms of whether high FBG is causally linked to a reduction in cerebral function – not surprising, because a study that could do that would be very long and horrendously expensive to conduct.

Related article:  Viewpoint: Targeting amyloid deposits isn’t working. It's time for a new approach for Alzheimer’s treatments
Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.

All in all what they’ve presented is solid work that adds to the idea that poor dietary patterns probably hasten dementia, while eating well – a Mediterranean-style diet rich in veggies, fish, olive oil, berries and not too much red meat – might be protective (or at least a marker for more healthful behaviors in general, who knows).

But eating fast food is eating away your brain??

I’m not sure what holds as a definition for fast food these days anyway, as the last time I popped into In-N-Out Burger it took aaaages.

But for sure this type of heading fits with the wider trend for academics and their PRs to be the source of spin in media stories, where coverage is a metric for ‘impact’. The reasons why, and their ramifications are a whole different discussion for another day.

Let’s just say there’s enough here to have motivated me to choose a salad for lunch and not skip a run again this week, but that’s as far as it goes.

Angela Dowden is a British award-winning health journalist and Registered Nutritionist with over twenty year’s experience writing for consumer sites and publications that have a global reach. Follow her on Twitter @DietWrite

A version of this article was originally published on the American Council on Science and Health’s website asBurger Ate My Brain: Stretching The Evidence On Diet And Dementiaand has been republished here with permission. 

Outbreak
Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
can you boost your immune system to prevent coronavirus spread x

Video: How to boost your immune system to guard against COVID and other illnesses

Scientists have recently developed ways to measure your immune age. Fortunately, it turns out your immune age can go down ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
globalmethanebudget globalcarbonproject cropped x

Infographic: Cows cause climate change? Agriculture scientist says ‘belching bovines’ get too much blame

A recent interview by Caroline Stocks, a UK journalist who writes about food, agriculture and the environment, of air quality ...
organic hillside sweet corn x

Organic v conventional using GMOs: Which is the more sustainable farming?

Many consumers spend more for organic food to avoid genetically modified products in part because they believe that “industrial agriculture” ...
benjamin franklin x

Are most GMO safety studies funded by industry?

The assertion that biotech companies do the research and the government just signs off on it is false ...
gmo corn field x

Do GMO Bt (insect-resistant) crops pose a threat to human health or the environment?

Bt is a bacterium found organically in the soil. It is extremely effective in repelling or killing target insects but ...
favicon

Environmental Working Group: EWG challenges safety of GMOs, food pesticide residues

Known by some as the "Environmental Worrying Group," EWG lobbies for tighter GMO legislation and famously puts out annual "dirty dozen" list of fruits and ...
m hansen

Michael Hansen: Architect of Consumers Union ongoing anti-GMO campaign

Michael K. Hansen (born 1956) is thought by critics to be the prime mover behind the ongoing campaign against agricultural biotechnology at Consumer Reports. He is an ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend