Why the food you're eating is lowering your Brainpower


Cognitive function is the process by which one acquires and understands knowledge, through experiences, thoughts and senses.

Examples of cognitive function are:

- Attention

- Executive Function (control of behaviour)

- Memory

- Language

Ways of attempting to boost our brainpower are becoming more and more popular. By improving mental performance, a businessman can function at a higher level, an athlete can stay completely focused on the task at hand and a student can work their way through their 10,000 word dissertation at 4am in the library without the need to crawl to the coffee machine every 20 minutes.

Based on current research, studies show that about 15% of the student population have used cognitive enhancing drugs such as Modafanil, Ritalin or Adderall. Showing that there is a clear need and desire to improve cognitive performance. This can be achieved through a change in lifestyle.

The Brain

Despite weighing in at just under 3lbs, the brain uses the highest amount of energy compared to any other organ in the body, using in excess of 600kcal per day. This is 10 times more than the amount of energy used per pound of the rest of the body.

Because the brain has no back up fuel supply (stored glycogen), it is completely dependent on a constant supply of blood providing both energy and oxygen. Therefore the tiniest drop in blood sugar levels causes an intense feeling of hunger, an increase in heart rate, anxiety and irritability (we're all guilty of being "Hangry" from time to time).

Consequences of being overweight on cognitive function

Obesity is at an all time high and increasing across all age groups, it has a serious effect on health and overall function of the body. Approximately 60% of Americans and 50% of Europeans are categorised as being overweight. This figure is increasing as a result of the over-consumption of fast foods, a lack of physical activity and other contributing factors such as alcohol intake.

Being obese or overweight can lead to:

Modifications in the structure and function of the brain, such as Cortical Atrophy. This is a decrease in size of the region of the brain responsible for visual-spatial processing. In everyday terms, visual spatial skills are used for navigation, understanding or fixing equipment, understanding or estimating distance and measurement.

Being overweight or obese is also heavily associated with having insulin resistance. This is a condition where your blood sugar levels are elevated, but not high enough to be in the same category as Type 2 Diabetes. Insulin resistance can result in a 35-45% reduction in your mental performance.

Changes in cognitive performance affecting one or two domains are seen in people with insulin resistance.

"35-45% reduction in your mental performance "

Accumulating data also suggests that by being overweight, the risk of dementia is increased by 40%, especially in people below the age of 65 years old. This risk is increased to 70% by having insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.

Weight Loss & Cognitive Performance

A meta-analysis assessing the results of 20 studies, looked at how intentional weight loss can affect cognitive performance. These studies compared over 1000 individuals that lost weight through diet, exercise or bariatric surgery (gastric band).

The findings of the study showed that losing weight resulted in an improvement in :

- Attention

- Executive Function

- Memory

- Language skills

Does the way I lose weight affect my cognitive performance?

Significant improvements in attention span were seen following weight loss. But this improvement was significantly greater when weight loss was achieved through diet & exercise as opposed to bariatric surgery. This was the same for executive function and memory. This shows that it is not just the process of losing weight that can improve your cognitive performance but changing the food that we consume and a change in lifestyle.

Why does losing weight influence cognitive performance?

Weight loss reduces insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is associated with a lower rate of glucose metabolism in the brain. Insulin regulates the activity of several brain areas relevant for memory, reward, eating behaviour and regulation of whole body metabolism.

Weight loss also reduces inflammation. An increase in inflammation seems to play a pivotal role in the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

By being overweight, cognitive performance (attention span, executive function, memory, language skills and decision making) is significantly decreased. However, this can be combatted through a change in lifestyle, altering the diet and increasing levels of physical activity.

If you are looking for someone who specialises in weight loss in solihull, leave a message on the CW Nutrition contact page and see how you can change your lifestyle in a sustainable and scientific way.