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A study from the University of Southern California indicates that the consumption of sugary and fatty foods during adolescence may lead to long-term memory issues in adulthood, similar to the effects of drugs and alcohol on a developing brain.

Memory impairment due to diet persists into adulthood

Researchers suggest that a diet rich in junk food could adversely affect teenagers’ memory, similar to findings observed in rats. Scott Kanoski, a professor at USC Dornsife College, notes that memory impairments caused by such a diet persist into adulthood, as evidenced by recent studies.

Prof. Kanoski and postdoctoral research fellow Anna Hayes considered previous studies linking poor diet to Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals with Alzheimer’s often exhibit reduced levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in their brains, crucial for memory, learning, attention, arousal, and muscle movement.

Researchers investigated the effects of a high-fat, sugary Western diet on young individuals, particularly during adolescence, when the brain undergoes significant development. Through studying the diet’s impact on rodents’ acetylcholine levels and memory performance, they uncovered insights into the link between diet and memory.

Unhealthy diet linked to impaired memory in adolescents

In a study, researchers monitored acetylcholine levels in rats fed a fatty, sugary diet compared to a control group. They assessed memory through tasks involving object recognition and spatial memory. Rats on the unhealthy diet demonstrated impaired memory compared to the control group.

Acetylcholine signaling aids in encoding and recalling events, similar to human episodic memory. Animals fed a fatty, sugary diet lack this signaling. Prof. Kanoski highlights adolescence as a critical brain development phase. He warns that issues during childhood may be less reversible compared to adulthood.

Researchers suggests there may be hope for intervention regarding memory damage caused by a junk food diet. Prof. Kanoski conducted a study examining if memory damage in rats from such a diet could be reversed with medication that stimulates acetylcholine release. Two drugs, PNU-282987 and carbachol, were used directly on the hippocampus, a brain region affected by Alzheimer’s disease, resulting in improved memory in the rats.