Brain Circuit Linked to Food Impulsivity

This Could be the Key to Changing Your Food Habits

  For many of us, having the ability to eat just one piece of chocolate rather than the whole bar is nearly impossible. This lack of self control to be able to tuck the chocolate bar away is a form of impulsive behavior and its very common. An interesting, new research study published in the journal

Impulsivity, or responding without thinking about the consequences of an action, has been linked to excessive food intake, binge eating, weight gain and obesity, along with several psychiatric disorders including drug addiction and excessive gambling.

    The team of researchers responsible for the study have analyzed why our brains act a certain way when impulse is involved. Interestingly, they have identified an area of the brain that appears to be responsible for our impulse control when it comes to food. According to Emily Noble, an assistant professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences and lead author on the paper:  

“There’s underlying physiology in your brain that is regulating your capacity to say no to (impulsive eating) &In experimental models, you can activate that circuitry and get a specific behavioral response.”

    Using a rat model, researchers identified a specific circuit in the brain that alters food impulsivity by focusing on a subset of brain cells that produce a type of transmitter in the hypothalamus called melanin concentrating hormone (MCH). While previous research has shown that elevating MCH levels in the brain can increase food intake, this study is the first to show that MCH also plays a role in impulsive behavior. This is extremely exciting information, because by altering our food impulsivity, scientists have created the possibility of someday developing techniques to address obsessive overeating.       Research studies such as these highlight health issues affecting millions of North Americans. The reality is food impulsivity is a major problem in our society and has directly influenced our unhealthy relationship with food. Chronic issues such as poor nutrition, overeating and obesity are running rampant and causing significant health calamities including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimers disease and other dementias.       Processed foods in particular, such as chips, cookies, frozen dinners and white bread are targets for impulsive consumption. These types of foods are high in salt, sugar and saturated fats that clog the brains arteries and directly damage brain tissue. Pastries and sweets are also highly addictive and cause inflammation and brain burn-out. In addition to processed foods and sweets, the following food items round out our Top Ten Foods to Reduce or Eliminate:     Processed Meats: Meats like pastrami, salami, bacon, and hot dogs are filled with preservatives, salt, saturated fats and carcinogenic compounds that promote inflammation and damage blood vessels and the supportive structures in the brain.  
  • Red Meat: Farmed or grass-fed beef and wild game meat are high in inflammatory saturated fats. They may cause less inflammation than processed meats, but they still result in considerable damage at the vascular and cellular levels.
  • Chicken: Chicken is the main source of cholesterol in the standard American diet. Chicken contains three times more fat than protein and is a major contributor to obesity.
  • Butter and Margarine: High in saturated and trans fats that clog arteries and shrink the brain.
  • Fried Food and Fast Food: High in trans fats that reduce brain volume, contributing to cognitive decline.
  • Cheese: High in saturated fat. Damages blood vessels in the brain.
  • Sugary Drinks: The main source of sugar in the standard American diet. Causes inflammation and neuronal damage.
  • Excessive Alcohol: Alcohol is neurotoxic and directly damages brain cells.
    Instead of eating the above foods that negatively affect your health and compromise your brain cells, increase your consumption of the following brain-nourishing foods:  
  • Avocados: This fruit is packed with monounsaturated fats that support brain structure and blood flow.
  • Beans: Beans are high in antioxidants, phytonutrients, plant protein, iron, and other minerals, and have been shown to increase longevity and reduce the risk of stroke (one of the four most common neurodegenerative diseases that shares risk factors with dementia). Beans can lower cholesterol and regulate blood glucose even many hours after being consumedhence the phrase, second meal effect (where certain foods affect blood sugar and insulin levels during subsequent meals).
  • Blueberries: In a Harvard longitudinal study conducted on 16,000 nurses, the consumption of berries, especially blueberries and strawberries, was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. Specifically, the study suggested that regular consumption of berries delayed cognitive decline by two and a half years.
  • Broccoli: Rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoid antioxidants that can cross the blood-brain barrier and reverse damage caused by free radicals and normal aging. A large study at Harvard Medical School of over 13,000 women found that those participants who ate more cruciferous vegetables like broccoli had less age-related memory decline.
  • Coffee: The caffeine in coffee is an adenosine receptor antagonist, which stimulates the production of acetylcholine, a known neuroprotective agent in the brain. Coffee also contains potent antioxidants in the form of polyphenols and chlorogenic acid.
  • Dark Chocolate: Dark unprocessed cocoa or cacao nibs, the purest forms of chocolate, are incredible sources of flavanol phytonutrients that have been shown to relax arteries and help supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain. In fact, people who eat dark chocolate have a lower risk of stroke.
  • Flax Seed: Contains the highest amount of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to decrease inflammation and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Flax also contains lignans, chemical compounds that protect blood vessels from inflammatory damage.
  • Herbal Tea: Mint, lemon balm, and hibiscus teas are the three most anti- inflammatory beverages available. Green tea contains green tea catechin, a polyphenol that activates toxin clearing enzymes. Iced herbal tea (with added stevia or erythritol for sweetness) can easily replace sugary drinks in the summer.
  • Herbs: Fresh or dried herbs like cilantro, dill, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, mint, and parsley contain ten times the antioxidants of nuts and berries. Even a small amount boosts your daily antioxidant consumption.
  • Leafy Greens: A rich source of polyphenols (plant-derived antioxidants that fight free radicals), folic acid, lutein, vitamin E, and beta carotene, all nutrients that are associated with brain health.
  • Mushrooms: Whether theyre fresh, dried, or powdered, mushrooms improve overall immunity and reduce inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain. Cremini mushrooms are an excellent plant source of vitamin B12, which is linked to a lowered risk of Alzheimers disease.
  • Nuts: Nuts provide the highest source of healthy unsaturated fats, which have been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimers in multiple studies.
    Omega-3 Fatty Acids (derived from algae): High-powered, plant-based omega-3s that reduce inflammation and boost the immune system.  
  • Quinoa: One of the most nutrient-rich foods. Quinoa is the only grain thats a complete protein source (most grains lack the amino acids leucine and isoleucine). It also contains ample fiber, vitamin E, and minerals like zinc, phosphorus, and selenium, all essential building blocks for brain cells and their supporting structures.
  • Seeds (Chia, Sunflower): High in vitamin E and other brain-boosting minerals.
  • Spices: Spices contain the highest amounts of antioxidants per ounce compared to any other food and are excellent at supporting the brains innate detox systems. Spices and herbs like cinnamon, cloves, marjoram, allspice, saffron, nutmeg, tarragon, and others should be a regular part of our diet, not just a once-in-a-while addition.
  • Sweet Potatoes: Packed with phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins A and C, and minerals, this tuber actually has the ability to regulate blood sugar. Its anti-inflammatory effects have also been documented in numerous studies.
  • Turmeric: Curcumin, an extract of turmeric, is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-amyloid powerhouse. In studies of both animals and humans, curcumin has been shown to have a direct effect in reducing beta-amyloid.
  • Whole Grains: Packed with cholesterol-lowering fiber, complex carbohydrates, protein, and B vitamins. The starch in whole grains like oats, buckwheat, millet, teff, sorghum, and amaranth is the most beneficial type of complex carbohydrate: it both feeds good bacteria in the gut and provides an excellent source of sustained energy for the brain
  By incorporating more of these brain healthy food choices into your everyday meals, you will be helping your organs function optimally and start to see an improvement in your overall well-being. For news updates and lifestyle recommendations sent directly to your inbox, subscribe to the HMI mailing list today by clicking
here and signing up. Author(s): Team Sherzai M.D.