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How Ultraprocessed Foods Could Be Hurting Your Brain Health

May 23, 2024 From Medscape

Recent research has shed light on the adverse effects of consuming ultraprocessed foods (UPFs) on brain health, revealing an independent risk factor for cognitive decline and stroke. This study, conducted over more than a decade, emphasizes the importance of food choices on neurological outcomes, independent of other dietary patterns.

Food Processing and Brain Health

UPFs, such as soft drinks, chips, and sweetened breakfast cereals, are low in protein and fiber but high in added sugars, fats, and salts. According to Dr. W. Taylor Kimberly from Massachusetts General Hospital, “The type of food that we eat matters for brain health, but it’s equally important to think about how it’s made and handled.”

The study, published in Neurology on May 22, followed a large cohort of adults and found significant associations between high UPF consumption and faster rates of cognitive decline and increased stroke risk. Conversely, unprocessed or minimally processed foods, like simple cuts of meat and fresh vegetables, were found to be protective.

Key Findings from the Study

The research used data from the REGARDS study, which included Black and White adults aged 45 years and older. Food processing levels were defined by the NOVA food classification system, ranging from unprocessed (NOVA1) to ultraprocessed (NOVA4).

In the cognitive impairment cohort, 768 of 14,175 adults developed cognitive impairment. A 10% increase in UPF intake was associated with a 16% higher risk for cognitive impairment (HR, 1.16). On the other hand, higher intake of unprocessed foods correlated with a 12% lower risk (HR, 0.88).

In the stroke cohort, 1108 of 20,243 adults experienced a stroke during follow-up. Greater UPF consumption was linked to an 8% increased stroke risk (HR, 1.08), while higher intake of unprocessed foods correlated with a 9% lower risk (HR, 0.91). The impact of UPFs on stroke risk was notably greater among Black adults.

These associations were determined to be independent of adherence to common healthy dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.

Implications for Dietary Guidelines

The findings suggest a potential need to consider UPFs in dietary guidelines and public health policies. Editorialists Peipei Gao and Zhendong Mei from Harvard highlight that UPFs’ negative impact on brain health may be due to their poor nutritional profiles and the presence of harmful additives. They call for more extensive studies and randomized controlled trials to better understand the mechanisms behind UPFs and neurologic disorders.




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