Junk food dummies: How bingeing on burgers and chips can drain your brainpower
By Chris Brooke
14th August 2009
Eating too much fast food will make you thicker in more ways than one, according to a study.
As well as expanding the waistline, a high-fat diet of curries, kebabs, burgers and chips can make you less intelligent.
The research was performed by scientists at Oxford University on rats.
A high-fat diet over less than ten days damaged the rodents’ short-term memory and made them less mentally alert, as well as significantly decreasing their ability to exercise.
The group of biological experts say their results – dubbed a ‘high-fat hangover’ – show an important link between what people eat, how they think, and how our bodies perform.
Andrew Murray, co-author of the study, said: ‘Western diets are typically high in fat and are associated with long-term complications such as obesity, diabetes, and heart failure yet the short-term consequences of such diets have been given relatively little attention.
‘We hope that the findings of our study will help people to think seriously about reducing the fat content of their daily food intake to the immediate benefit of their general health, well-being and alertness.’
The research team studied rats fed a lowfat diet, comprising just 7.5 per cent of calories as fat, and compared them with rats fed a high-fat junk food diet, typically 55 per cent of calories as fat.
They discovered that after just four days the muscles of the rats eating the high-fat diet were less able to use oxygen to make the energy needed to exercise, causing their hearts to work harder and increase in size.
After nine days on a high-fat diet, the rats took longer to complete a maze and made more mistakes in the process than their low-fat-diet counterparts.
The number of correct decisions before making a mistake dropped from over six to an average of five to 5.5.
The low-fat rats were also running 50 per cent further by this stage than their fatter and ‘thicker’ counterparts.
Researchers then investigated the cellular causes of these problems, particularly in muscle cells.
They found increased levels of a protein called uncoupling protein 3, which made the cells less efficient at using oxygen to make the energy required for running.
The findings are published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Dr Gerald Weissmann, editor of the journal, said: ‘It’s nothing short of a high-fat hangover.’
The research funded by the British Heart Foundation may have implications for athletes looking for the best diet for training and patients with metabolic disorders.
The scientists are now studying the effect of a short-term high-fat diet on humans.