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You’ve heard your mom warn that TV destroys brain cells, but while that’s never been proven, a recent study proposes that junk food actually might. In the University of Washington study, scientists offer a reason for why junk food fails to satisfy the eater’s appetite while also making him hungrier. It shows that consuming fatty, salty, processed food inhibits the brain’s ability to control appetite. Thus the more junk food you eat the hungrier you get. That a typical American diet of over-eating could result in brain injury helps explain why so many Americans are unable to lose weight and keep it off.

To conduct the study, scientists fed rats a “typical high-fat American diet” and saw that the rats doubled their calorie intake only three days later. Additionally, the rats had an inflammation in the hypothalamus — the part of the brain where neurons control weight. While the inflammation died down after a few days it flared up again a month later. Gliosis, a healing response to neuron injury, such as stroke, was also detected in the rats. The neuron injury may not be permanent, but it does appear to have a substantial impact on the body’s capacity for weight regulation.

Lead researcher Dr. Joshua Thaler of the Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence at the University of Washington suggests that medicines that could help curb the injury inflicted on the neurons during over-eating might help fight against obesity. 

That, or just moderating or eliminating the amount of junk food you consume.