The good news is that not all fats are bad for you. However, a particular kind of fat called trans fat does have a detrimental effect on the brain. Trans fats are found naturally in animal products including meat and dairy, but even these are not as problematic as the industrially produced trans fats that get pumped into all sorts of packaged foods.
Otherwise known as hydrogenated oil, people who eat a lot of trans fat in the form of margarine, store-bought baked goods, chips and crackers, frozen and canned meals, and creamy beverages are at a greater risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Studies have shown that high consumption of trans fats also leads to earlier cognitive decline, lower brain volume, and poorer memory.
Sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and even fruit juice have little to no nutritional value. Regular consumption of sugary drinks can lead to a whole host of physical impairments, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and yes – Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
A high intake of fructose that’s found in many sugary drinks, has been shown to reduce learning ability, memory, overall brain function, and the formation of new neurons in the brain. It may also lead to increased inflammation in the brain, which negatively affects all types of brain function.
Refined carbohydrates are products made with processed grains. They may not necessarily taste sweet, but they break down into sugar in your body very quickly. That’s because the refining process strips all of the fiber and nutrition out of the original grain. A meal rich in refined carbs represents a high glycemic load that spikes your blood sugar.
That causes all the same issues as if you had eaten straight sugar, including memory impairment, inflammation, and a higher risk of developing dementia. Studies have shown that children who consume diets high in refined carbohydrates score lower on nonverbal intelligence tests. And elderly people who take in more than 58% of their daily calories in refined carbs have twice the risk of mental impairment and dementia than those who eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Processed and packaged foods remove important nutrition from whole food and replace it with sugar, fat, and salt. This is our so-called Western diet, one which relies on convenience and fast foods. And we get it – people are busy and sometimes it just isn’t possible to make your own sauces, dressings, pastas, and baked goods.
However, it is important to cook with whole nutritious foods as often as you can swing it, because the Western diet is notorious for causing an accumulation of fat around the vital organs. This, in turn, is associated with damage to the brain tissue and a reduction in the brain’s volume. It may also cause disruptions to the blood-brain barrier, the membrane that is responsible for protecting the brain from harmful substances.
It’s probably no surprise that alcohol can harm the brain, considering how much stupid stuff people tend to do under the influence. Getting tipsy every once in a while probably won’t cause permanent damage, but alcoholism and bouts of binge drinking absolutely can.
Chronic consumption of alcohol tends to shrink the brain and disrupt the neurotransmitters that your brain uses to communicate. Alcoholics also often experience a vitamin B1 deficiency, which can lead to the development of Korsakoff’s syndrome. That syndrome is responsible for severe brain damage that causes memory loss, confusion, unsteadiness, and intermittent loss of eyesight.