Cognitive problems and memory loss are now becoming so common you might think they’re being caused by something in the water.

Given the sorry state of the drinking water in most countries, I wouldn’t rule it out. But the main reason cognitive decline is practically an epidemic has less to do with what’s in the water and more to do with what’s in your food.

You couldn’t design a menu more perfect for rotting the brain than the typical Western diet high in sugars (including the hidden high fructose corn syrup) and high in trans fats — and we don’t need more research to prove it.

It’s a fact — and the proof is all around you.

It’s not a problem that begins in your brain, but rather, in your stomach. Bomb your belly with trans fats and sugar (or both), and you’ll change the make-up of the essential bacteria that line your gut — including the bacteria you need to regulate your memory and mood.

Mice fed either a high-sugar or high-fat diet saw their levels of Bacteroidales plunge and Clostridiales rise. Your body knows the difference in these, because that change in balance can have repercussions that extend all the way up into your brain.

Mice in the study that were given excess fat or sugar not only saw the change in bacteria, but also suffered problems with both short-term and long-term memory, and flunked a test of cognitive flexibility.
In this case, the old route through the maze was cut off and the mice had to find a new way out — but they struggled after being given fats and sugar.

In humans, it would be like trying to find a new route home if your normal way is closed, and having a hard time doing so. Don’t blame the roadworks … blame the burgers and the soft drink, because both mice on a fatty diet and mice on a high-sugar diet suffered all of those memory problems, with the sugar- dosed mice doing worst of all.

And while this was a study on rodents in a lab, we see similar results in humans out in the real world constantly. The tragedy is how preventable this is. Eat better, and your brain will retain its sharpness. Your risk of memory loss will plunge, and you’ll have a better chance at finding your way home when the road is closed and you need to map out a new route.

The Mediterranean diet is naturally low in sugar and saturated fat — and not at all surprisingly, it’s also the one diet that’s consistently proven to cut the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Even better, it’s also been shown to slash the risk of heart attack and stroke.

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