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Low Carbohydrate Diet May Affect Brain Function

Posted by SoundHealth on Thursday, December 18, 2008
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With rising obesity levels people are looking for ways to lose weight fast with minimal effort. One of the more popular diets recently has been the Atkins diet; this diet virtually eliminates carbohydrates like pasta, bread, potatoes and even some fruits and vegetables, but allows many of the foods that are considered high in fat. While the diet manages to have a high success rate at losing weight, there are a lot of possible negative consequences of such a lifestyle, as research has shown.

One of the side effects of the Atkins diet, as well as any no or low-carbohydrate diet is your body being in ketosis, the process of your body switching from using carbohydrates to using fats for energy, which can result in bad breath, weakness, nausea, dizziness, and insomnia. Another side effect is constipation, caused in part from the lack of high-fiber foods. Other side effects are more long-term, including the risk of heart disease, a chance of osteoporosis, colon cancer, kidney problems and premature aging. Now, researchers say there is yet another side effect of carbohydrate -restrictive dietsmemory loss.

Lead researcher Professor Holly Taylor from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts believes this may be due to the way our brains use glucose, which comes from breaking down carbohydrates. Glucose is needed in order to power our brain cells, and since they have no way of storing it, these cells rely on a continuous supply via the bloodstream. When carbohydrate intake is reduced, so is the bodys ability to keep the brain supplied with glucose, thus resulting in impaired cognition.

The study, which will be published in the journal Appetite, compared women on an Atkins-style low-carbohydrate diet, with women on a low-calorie diet that included plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

The results showed that those on the low-carbohydrate diet performed worse on memory-based tasks than the group following the low-calorie diet. Their reaction times were also slower and their visual-spatial memories were not as good as the low-calorie group. However, their memory function appeared to return to normal when carbohydrates were reintroduced into their diets. This builds on previous study results showing short-term improvements in attention for people on high protein or high fat diets.

"This study demonstrates that the food you eat can have an immediate impact on cognitive behavior. The popular low-carb, no-carb diets have the strongest potential for negative impact on thinking and cognition," said Professor Taylor. "The brain needs glucose for energy and diets low in carbohydrates can be detrimental to learning, memory and thinking."

This study provides strong evidence that restricting carbohydrates from the diet is not beneficial for the mind. The body requires a balance of nutrients to stay healthy and complex carbohydrates supply the brain with steady stream of glucose that enhances brain function. Good sources of complex carbohydrates include starchy foods like bananas, brown rice, chickpeas, lentils, and wholegrains.

However, simple carbohydrates often found in junk food should be avoided, because the glucose gives the brain a short-lived sugar high, often followed by a crash that makes you feel hungry and tired.

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