Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2021

© Sebastian Kaulitzki /

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Nutrition for neurons

We are learning that what we eat has an effect on how our brains function, but we are also finding out how much the brain influences what we choose to eat.

Starvation causes hypothalamic autophagy

Research released in the journal Cell Metabolism suggests that this process is involved in appetite control.1 It was previously thought that brain cells were resistant to the process of autophagy. The neurons investigated have a direct role in regulating food intake and energy balance. In mice, this led to weight and body-fat reductions after fasting. Should this process also happen in humans, it may point to new research in the development of obesity treatments.
High stress causes overeating

Research at the University of Calgary confirms the link between overeating and stress.2 The study caused stress in rats, and then looked at the neurons and neurotransmitters (endocannnabinoids) in the hypothalamus, the area involved in appetite regulation. When stressed, the animals’ brains were inundated with stress hormones, which caused a rewiring in the brain. There is some concern that this may result in long-term changes in how the endocannabinoids manage food intake and activate the hunger drive.
Neurobehavioural processes in obesity counseling

The August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association proposes a new model for counselling overweight and obese clients.3 It suggests that by putting all the emphasis on personal choice, we are doing a disservice to patients. Counselling might prove to be more effective if we use recent discoveries on how food, our environment and our brains interact. The model is based on the three neurobehavioural processes that have been repeatedly linked to the development of obesity.

One process is the reward circuit, a neural pathway in the brain. The reward could be the enjoyment that we experience when we eat, and it could influence how motivated we are to find and then eat really delicious food. Another is the inhibitory control, which is in the prefrontal cortex. Lastly is time discounting, whereby we place little value on long-term rewards. The model suggests that by using our knowledge of these neurobehavioural mechanisms, professionals may design better interventions.

ADHD linked with a “Western” diet

Finally a study that confirms what many parents have been saying! This perspective study examined the diets of 1800 adolescents and found that incidents of ADHD more than doubled among children who followed typical Western diets (more fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt).4 Foods in the so-called Healthy Diet were similar to those in the Mediterranean food guide, and resulted in higher omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid and fibre. What is not clear is if this link is causing the ADHD or if the ADHD drives the poor food choices.
Take your vitamins to boost your memory

Researchers from the University of Paris XIII followed 4500 French men aged 45 to 60 for 14 years.5 The men were divided into two groups, one receiving a vitamin and mineral supplement and the other a placebo. At the end of eight years, participants were allowed to choose whether they wanted to continue to take vitamins. After another six years, participants were asked to do various memory tests. Those who had taken the supplements had better scores on one of the long-term memory tests.

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