Junk food’s effect on the brain: Florey research receives nation-wide coverage

Australia’s leading brain experts, including The Florey’s Dr Robyn Brown, have united at the Australasian Neuroscience Society scientific meeting in Adelaide to share their latest research on the effects of food on the brain.

The intriguing research of Dr Robyn Brown examines the addictive effects of junk food. Her research has shown that food high in sugar and fat can act on the brain’s reward circuitry to promote craving and intake, similar to addiction.

“Interestingly, our recent research in animal models shows that female brains appear more susceptible than male brains to emotional triggers that lead to overconsumption of junk food,” said Dr Brown.

“We are now pursuing this important health area with further research looking at what’s happening in the brain during stress-induced binge eating and exactly what causes this behaviour”.

Dr Brown’s work has received national coverage across print, radio and TV media. Click to read the story in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Florey Researcher, Dr Robyn Brown at the Australasian Neuroscience Society (ANS)

In a different research approach, Professor Selena Bartlett from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) investigates the effects of sugar on the brain. Her research has demonstrated that chronic intake of sugar can cause significant physical and chemical changes to wiring in the brain. Additionally, she observed that sugar could activate receptors in the brain in the same mechanism seen when consuming alcohol or smoking cigarettes.

“The neurological effects of sugar that we’re observing in our research are quite shocking. These changes are signalling a very stressed brain which overall can have negative impacts on health in the long run”.

The QUT team are now investigating if a smartphone app used to track added sugar in food using a neuroplasticity-based gamification approach could reduce sugar intake.

Finally, Professor Amanda Page from the University of Adelaide focuses on the relationship between food and the gut-brain axis. Her work has demonstrated the stomach’s pivotal role in transmitting information about food consumption to the brain and how disruption to this axis may have effects on food-related disorders such as obesity.

“Our research has revealed that sensory signals in the gastrointestinal tract are disrupted in diet-induced obesity, which we know dampens the message of fullness sent to the brain. We are currently looking at whether time-restricted feeding may correct this.”