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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Eating fatty, highly processed "junk food" has as much a negative effect on memory as sleep apnea does, according to Israeli and American researchers who studied rodents in the lab. A recent issue of the journal Brain Research, written by Dr. Aviv Goldbart of Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba and researchers at the University of Louisville in the US, found that rats fed junk food had more difficulty remembering how to swim to avoid drowning in an aquarium than rats given a normal diet.
The rats had to recognize colorful signs over a clear plastic platform that would serve as "dry land" in a water-filled aquarium. If they were fed a high-fat, highly refined food, they took twice as long to find the platform than if they were fed a conventional rodent diet. They took a long time to learn where the platform signs were, and the learning process was very slow.
The same experiment was conducted on mice who suffered from intermittent hypoxia (intermitted lack of oxygen to the brain, the same problem suffered by people with sleep apnea). The researchers used four groups of rats: those that received oxygen as usual; those that were intermittently deprived of oxygen; those that ate a junk food diet; and those that ate junk food and temporarily deprived of oxygen.
"We learned that the high-fat diet alone causes learning disorders," said Aviv. "Rats that were fed junk food and were intermittently deprived of oxygen showed the worst results. In rats that were fed a high-fat diet, the amount of a certain brain protein connected to memory declined. This supports the theory that eating fatty, processed food hurts memory."
"To prevent learning and memory problems, children who suffer from sleep apnea should be identified and treated quickly with surgery to remove enlarged adenoids and tonsils that block the airways and also to make them an appointment with a clinical dietitian," he concluded.