Story at a glance

  • A new study has linked diets high in processed foods with memory impairment.
  • The study was published in the November 2021 issue of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
  • Researchers hope the findings will be used to inform dietary choices as people age to counter or slow the effects.

A new study has linked diets high in processed foods with memory impairment.

The study, published in the November 2021 issue of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, found the link through monitoring the diets of both young and aging rats. 

Led by researchers with Ohio State University, two groups of rats, one young and one aging, were fed a diet high in refined carbohydrates like those found in processed foods, such as potato chips, for four weeks.

The researchers found that the aging rats fed processed foods showed signs of memory impairment while the younger rats on the same diet showed no indication of such impairment. A control group of young and aging rats fed a healthy and balanced diet showed no impairment either.

“The fact we’re seeing these effects so quickly is a little bit alarming,” senior author of the study, Ruth Barrientos, an investigator for The Ohio State University Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, said in a press release.


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Some of the confusion included the rats being unfamiliar with spaces they’d previously been in and not displaying fear to danger cues.

“These findings indicate that consumption of a processed diet can produce significant and abrupt memory deficits – and in the aging population, rapid memory decline has a greater likelihood of progressing into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease,”  Barrientos said. 

However, Barrientos added that the findings could hopefully be used to inform dietary choices as people age to counter or slow the effects. 

“By being aware of this,” Barrientos said, “maybe we can limit processed foods in our diets and increase consumption of foods that are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to either prevent or slow that progression.”


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Published on Oct 27, 2021