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We all know that junk food is bad for our bodies and can cause weight gain, high blood pressure and heart problems but did you know it can be just as harmful to your brain? There is plenty of information available about how fats and sugars impact your ability to control appetite by causing the brain to send signals demanding more of the same. However, there is also growing evidence that junk food can even damage your brain cells.

I’m sure you’re aware that omega-3 fatty acids found in some fish, nuts and olives are actually beneficial in improving memory as well as lowering the risk of heart disease. This is because omega-3s are thought to improve the transfer of signals between brain cells (or neurons) by making the membranes between cells more flexible. Eating large amounts of trans-fats in fast food has the opposite effect; these fatty acids replace the omega-3 in the membrane and prevent the neurons from firing, resulting in poorer memory capabilities.

The fast food culture can make you more impatient; even if you’re not in a hurry. It also increases your need for instant rewards and reduces the desire to save money. Students who were shown fast food logos were able to read at a significantly faster pace than those who had not been exposed. You might think this is a good thing; surely it will make you more efficient at work but it also has an impact on leisure time by reducing your ability to enjoy things which need time to fully appreciate them.

Junk food consumption can be a risk factor in depression. The difficulty with this statement is that eating high levels of trans-fat and processed foods leads to an increase in cytokine production (a group of chemical which increase inflammation in the body) and poor mental health seems to result in an increase of cytokines. Unfortunately, this seems to be a continuing cycle so there is no conclusive evidence that it’s the junk food that is causing depression as well as the likelihood of comfort eating causing excessive cytokine production.

Of course the greatest threat to your brain is the addictive nature of junk food; your brain gets hooked on the sugar high which is similar to a cocaine or nicotine high. It alters the balance of neurotransmitters which make you feel euphoric and anxious. This can lead to a tolerance of the sugar (as with other addictive substances) which means that your brain demands more and more sugar to be able to experience the same level of high. The refined sugar causes a rapid increase in the amount of insulin your body needs to produce to balance out the glucose in your blood stream which can stop the brain responding to it over time and causing insulin resistance.

The main reason for all these harmful effects is that junk food is lacking in essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids which could result in your brain demanding more food in the hope that by doing this you will eventually get enough of the ‘good stuff’. There is also the possibility that a diet high in junk food could be lacking tryptophan which can help sleep patterns and reduce stress which can lead to depression and anxiety. This not only means that you will be eating the wrong foods but that it’s likely you’ll be eating too much of them.

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