It is no secret that fast food is not the best for our waistline, but now scientists claim it could cause dementia.
Experts say that unhealthy eating habits and a lack of exercises puts people at risk of a significant decline in brain function.
A team at Australian National University found people are consuming an extra 650 calories every day, compared with what we were eating 50 years ago. That is the equivalent of a burger, fries and a soft drink.
But they say that they have proven a clear link between eating more and brain deterioration.
Professor Nicolas Cherbuin, who led the research published in Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, said: “We’ve found strong evidence that people’s unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise for sustained periods of time puts them at serious risk of developing type 2 diabetes and significant declines in brain function, such as dementia and brain shrinkage.
“People are eating away at their brain with a really bad fast-food diet and little-to-no exercise.”
Prof Cherbuin also found that brain health can decline much earlier in life than previously thought.
However, he says this in large part, to a society that promotes unhealthy lifestyle choices.
He said: “The damage done is pretty much irreversible once a person reaches midlife, so we urge everyone to eat healthy and get in shape as early as possible — preferably in childhood but certainly by early adulthood.
“Many people who have dementia and other signs of cognitive dysfunction, including shrinking brains, have increased their risk throughout life by eating too much bad food and not exercising enough.”
What is dementia and are there different types? Dementia is a general term used to describe the deterioration of a person’s mental ability that is severe enough to interfere with their daily life. It is known for the problems it causes with thinking, reasoning and memory – as these are the areas in the brain that become damaged.
There are two main groups dementia can be split into: Cortical, which causes severe memory loss like that seen in Alzheimer’s; and Sub-cortical, which affects thinking speed and activity as seen with Parkinson’s disease.
Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s are two of the most common forms and they both cause problems with memory. Both are rare in those under 65 years old.
Other common forms of dementia are Frontotemporal dementia, mostly diagnosed in those under 65 years old, and dementia with Lewy bodies, where nerve damage gradually gets worse over time causing slowed movement.
Scientists recently discovered a new form of dementia that has often been mistaken for Alzheimer’s.
They say it is part of the reason why finding a cure to dementia has failed so far.
He said people were usually only advised to reduce their risk of brain problems like dementia once they were already aged in their 60s and it was often a case of “too little, too late”. It is people’s diets in childhood and as young adults that are crucial.
“One of the best chances people have of avoiding preventable brain problems down the track is to eat well and exercise from a young age.”
The research reports about 30 per cent of the world’s adult population is either overweight or obese, and more than 10 per cent of all adults will suffer from type 2 diabetes by 2030.
“The link between type 2 diabetes and the rapid deterioration of brain function is already well established,” Prof Cherbuin said.
“But our work shows that neurodegeneration, or the loss and function of neurons, sets in much, much earlier — we’ve found a clear association between this brain deterioration and unhealthy lifestyle choices.”
He said the extra amount of energy that people were consuming daily, compared to 50 years ago, means that people have an unhealthy diet.
Another problem is that people are eating too much of the wrong type of food, such as fast food, which is low in nutrients and high in calories.
He said: “As a society, we need to stop asking, ‘do you want fries with that?’
If we don’t, then expect to see more overweight and obese people suffering from serious diseases.
The message is simple, but bringing about positive change will be a big challenge. Individuals, parents, medical professionals and governments all have an important role to play.”