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Long-term study finds increased risk of strokes and brain damage from ultra-processed foods


Consuming ultra-processed foods like burgers, packaged bread, and flavored cereals can increase the risk of brain damage, memory loss, and stroke, according to a new long-term study.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston monitored the diets of over 30,000 individuals aged 45 and above, who had no prior history of cognitive decline or stroke, over an 11-year period. The study revealed that those who consumed more ultra-processed foods had an 8% higher risk of stroke, while those who ate more unprocessed or minimally processed foods reduced their stroke risk by 9%.

Published by the American Academy of Neurology, the research also found that a 10% increase in ultra-processed food intake was associated with a 16% higher risk of cognitive impairment.

The study utilized food questionnaires to track participants' diets and assess their impact on brain health. Participants were categorized into two groups to examine cognitive decline and stroke incidence. It was found that ultra-processed foods constituted 25.8% of the diet of those with memory and thinking issues, compared to 24.6% in those without such problems. Among the 20,243 participants evaluated for brain health, 1,108 experienced a stroke.

Study author Dr. William Taylor Kimberly stated, "Increased consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of both stroke and cognitive impairment," emphasizing the importance of food processing on brain health. However, Dr. Kimberly noted that there is no definitive guideline on the best dietary choices for brain health.

In addition, the research indicated that reducing processed food intake could lead to a 12% lower risk of mental decline and a 9% reduction in stroke risk.

Dr. Jawad Fazal, a neurology and stroke medicine consultant at Burjeel Medical City in Abu Dhabi, noted that the link between processed foods and cognitive decline is not surprising. He explained that high-fat, high-salt diets increase the risk of heart conditions, and similarly, these risk factors also affect brain health, leading to strokes. Plaque buildup in arteries from such diets can cause blood clots, leading to heart and brain blockages, which result in cardiac issues and strokes, respectively.

In the UAE, the Ministry of Health and Prevention has initiated a national health and nutrition survey to analyze dietary habits and healthcare access among 20,000 households. The aim is to identify future health needs and promote lifestyle education. Dr. Fazal highlighted the connection between a healthy diet and cognitive function, noting that people who grow their own food and live on farms tend to have better cognitive health.

Dr. Fazal also advised individuals to seek medical advice if they notice memory decline to identify lifestyle changes that can improve or minimize cognitive issues.

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