Today’s Headlines: Late Night Snacks, Healthy Eating and Sex

Food reward in the brain varies over the course of the day. It’s common to get hungry for a late-night snack, but a team of researchers has figured out why those snacks leave you feeling unfulfilled. “The team used an MRI to measure how people’s brains respond to different types of food images at different times of the day. Fifteen healthy women viewed a total of 360 images, once in the morning and a day later in the evening, over two separate occasions. Subjects looked at images of low-calorie and high-calorie foods. All participants showed greater neural responses in their MRIs when looking at images of high-calorie foods. However, the evening scans showed a lower response to both types of food pictures in areas of the brain that measure rewards. Participants in the study were told to avoid eating for a number of hours before each MRI session. Although they maintained the same diet on all days of the study, they also said that they were more preoccupied with thoughts of food in the evening and believed that they could eat more.” The researchers think this lack of reward in response to food pushes people to eat more at night. “Food is not as appealing, but people keep eating because they’re trying to get that same high or same satisfaction from eating food that they get during the day.” (CBS)

Healthy eating boosts brain power in the long run. It can be tough to keep track of the various foods that have been associated with brain benefits, but a new study out this week says that eating healthy is probably enough. “A new study tracked the diets and mental states of some 27,860 people, age 55 and over, in 40 middle- and high-income countries for just over five years. On average, 16.8% of the men and women followed were found to have lost some cognitive horsepower in the study’s five-year span. But that average obscures a clear pattern: Those whose diets were most healthful were least likely to experience cognitive decline, and those with the least healthful diets were most likely. Compared to participants who reported eating diets that were least healthful, the most healthful eaters were 24% less likely to have experienced cognitive decline—problems of memory, attention and reasoning ability—over a roughly five-year period.” The authors think the effect has to do with the vitamins and other nutrients healthy food provides. “Poor nutrition is likely to rob both body and brain of vitamins and minerals that not only promote the generation of healthy new cells but help guard against inflammation, help break down fats and protect cells from stress.” (LA Times)

Sex isn’t as affected by menopause as previously thought. You’ve probably heard that sexual function is all downhill once you hit menopause, but a new study contradicts that common myth. “The researchers studied four years’ worth of answers that women provided about their sexual health both before and after menopause. They expected that sexual drive and problems with sexual function would increase with time and be higher among women after menopause. But the rate of sexual dysfunction over the four-year study period was about the same—22% to 23%—for both pre- and post-menopausal women. That suggests that menopause isn’t as important a contributor to sexual issues as once thought. What’s more, the proportion of women reporting improvements in sexual function during the study also remained about the same in pre- and post-menopausal women, hinting that declines in things like desire or arousal can be reversed to a certain extent.” The team says older women should be encouraged by this information. “Where you start doesn’t have to dictate where you end up when it comes to sexual function. By modifying your life and attitudes about sexual desire you can change things for the better, even if you are getting older.” (TIME)