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Better Brain Health

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Better Brain Health
Directed byRaphael Hitier
Produced byFabrice Papillon
Music byLaetitia Pansanel-Garric Giant Steps Medias
Release date
January 3, 2020
Running time
43 minutes

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Better Brain Health is a short, 2020 DW documentary film in which several health professionals and brain researchers describe the effects of food on the human brain by providing the results of several experiments.[1] The documentary focuses on illustrating the positive and negative consequences of food on human behavior and several areas of the brain. The researchers shed light on the ramifications of frequent intake of processed and refined foods, other than diabetes and heart disease.


As the number of fast food chains and processed foods being sold increase, so does the attention towards the affects of these meals on the human body. A number of health professionals have taken part in various experiments and have researched the effects of food on the brain. The awareness of heart disease and diabetes is common, but the consequences on the brain are not as focused on. This documentary navigates through the various effects food can have on human behavior and emotions. Nutrition impacts the body from as early as development in the gestation period and continues to affect an organism throughout its life. This video highlights the parts of the brain which are affected by certain nutritional factors and brings awareness to the impact food can have.


Food Intake during Gestation Period[edit]

  • Professor Felice Jacka from the University of Melbourne conducted an experiment on 23,000 pregnant women where she followed their eating habits throughout their pregnancy. After the children were born, the researchers followed and observed each child’s behavior until the age of five. They found that women who ate unhealthy foods frequently during their pregnancy had children who were prone to have more tantrums and show more aggressive behaviors.[1]

Dietary Deficiencies[edit]

  • Dr.Sophie Laye of the University of Bordeaux studied how omega-3 fatty acids affect rats. The rats were placed in a box which was divided between a shaded region and a lighted region. A rat which was deprived of omega-3 fatty acids during its development spent most of its time in the shaded area of the box and displayed a stressed behavior. To the contrary, regular rats which were fed a regular nutritional meal throughout their development, tended to explore the lighted area more. The researchers hypothesized that an organism with an omega-3 fatty acid deprivation is prone to having anxiety and stress.[1][2]
  • In the plains of France, there was a dramatic decrease of the European hamster population, while there was a significant increase of them in areas with many corn fields. In these areas where corn was easily accessible, the researchers found that the female European hamsters showed aggressive behavior around their time to mate. Once their offspring were born, they even ate some them. After various tests and research, it was found that these hamsters were deficient in Vitamin B3. To experiment further, the researchers created a meal enriched with Vitamin B3 and introduced it to the female hamsters. As a result, the female European hamsters began expressing nurturing behaviors towards their offsprings.[1]

Food and Aggression[edit]

  • A clinical psychologist specialized in nutrition and crime studied the relationship between nutrition and aggression. This experiment was done on young prisoners in eight different prisons in the Netherlands.[3] For a period of three months, the researchers gave the prisoners a meal enriched with minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids and observed their behaviors. As a result, the number of incidents decreased by approximately one third, and the number of prisoners placed in solitary confinement also decreased.[1][3]

Food and Decision Making[edit]

  • Professor Dr. Soyoung Park from the University of Lübeck conducted an experiment to observe the relationship between nutrition and how it affects decision making. A random selection of test subjects went to the lab on two different days and were given breakfast. On one day, the subjects were given a meal with a higher protein to sugar ration, while one the other day the subjects were given a breakfast containing more carbohydrates than proteins. The breakfast meals appeared the same to the subjects to ensure that they would not know the difference. After eating, the subjects were instructed to take a computerized test to answer some questions. The main question presented to them required them to either decide to accept an unfair offer or reject it. The results showed that on the day where the subjects were fed with the high protein meal, they were more likely to accept the unfair offer.[1]
  • The results were tested biologically by obtaining blood samples of the subjects. The researchers found that those with a higher level of tyrosine in their blood were more willing to accept the unfair offer.[1]

Effect of Junk Food[edit]

  • Professor Margaret Morris of the University of Sydney researched how junk food commonly consumed by humans affects the brain.[4] The subjects of her study were rats. After feeding the rats with these readily available junk foods, she found a number of effects. First, the rats appeared to have doubled their food rations and appeared to never be satiated. She experimented by placing the rats fed with junk food in a box and analyzed their spatial memory. The results showed that the rats with this diet consisting of processed food displayed a memory impairment.[1][4]

Cocaine and sugar[edit]

  • Doctor Serge Ahmed from the University of Bordeaux, organized an experiment to observe how sugar and cocaine affect the body. He obtained several rats and gave them cocaine and sugar. After weeks, he placed the rats one at a time in a box where they were presented with a choice. On one side of the box, they could press a lever and a cocaine infused liquid would emanate, while on the other side there was a lever of a liquid highly infused with sugar. The rats chose the sugar water four times more than they chose the cocaine. Doctor Ahmed explains that these results suggest that sugar can affect the neural circuitry in the same way that drugs such as cocaine do.[1][5]

Neuron Activity[edit]

  • Research in Bordeaux ,France recorded the electrical activity of a single neuron using specific machines to examine a slice of live mouse brain. The researchers found that there was more electrical activity displayed by the neuron when the glucose concentration of the bath was increased. This experiment suggested that glucose can modify areas of the brain which affect emotions and pleasure.[1][6]

Reward Circuit[edit]

  • Doctor Eric Stice from the Oregon Research Institute created an experiment to test how food affects the reward circuit. He and the team of researchers gathered one hundred students. Among these students, half frequently ate ice cream while the other half claimed to never eat it. The researchers placed the students inside an MRI machine and fed them a chocolate milkshake with a large tube. For the students who frequently had ice cream, the MRI machine displayed a diminished response. To the contrary, the MRI scan lit up and showed a large amount of activity for the students who rarely or never ate ice cream.[1]
  • A second experiment was performed with these same students. This time the students were simply shown an image of ice cream and their scans in the MRI machine were analyzed. The researchers found that the students who rarely ate ice cream did not display a significant response to the image, yet the reward circuitry of the students who always ate ice cream lit up extravagantly.[1]

Choosing Food[edit]

  • In order to study the reasons why humans choose to eat certain foods over others, Doctor Carlos Ribeiro from Champalimaud Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal, experimented on flies.[7] He found that food choice for the flies relies heavily on their deficiencies.[8] If the fly was deficient in protein or sugar, it tended to go for a food containing it. He also found that their decision was influenced by the bacteria in their gut.[1][8]

Microbiome and Behavior[edit]

  • Professor John Cryan from the University College of Cork in Ireland, studied how the microbiome can affect animal behaviors. He experimented by transferring gut bacteria from an anxious mouse into a mouse with regular behavior and found that the second mouse began displaying more anxious behaviors. The same was done where a mouse displaying anxious behavior was introduced with bacteria from a healthy, unstressed mouse.[1]

Diet and depression[edit]

  • Along with other researchers, Professor Felice Jacka from the University of Melbourne, tested the affects of a nutritional diet on people who suffer with depression. For three months, the subjects were paired with clinical dietitians who provided them with a more nutrient rich diet. The results showed that the level by which their diet was changed was proportional to the levels of improvement in their depression.[1]

Featured Individuals[edit]

Professor Felice Jacka (University of Melbourne)[9]

Doctor Sophie Laye (University of Bordeaux)[10][2]

Doctor Carlos Ribeiro (Champalimaud Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal)[11][7][8]

Doctor Caroline Habold (University of Strasbourg)[12][13]

Doctor Ap Zaalberg (Research Center of the Ministry of Justice, Netherlands)[14][3]

Professor Soyoung Park (University of Lubeck)[15][16]

Professor Margaret Morris (University of New South Wales, Sydney)[17][4]

Doctor Xavier Fioramonti (University of Bordeaux)[6]

Doctor Serge Ahmed (University of Bordeaux)[5]

Doctor Eric Stice (Oregon Research Institute)[18][19]

Professor John Cryan (University of Cork, Ireland)[20][21][22]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 Welle (www.dw.com), Deutsche. "Better Brain Health - We Are What We Eat | DW | 01.03.2020". DW.COM. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Food for mood: Relevance of nutritional omega-3 fatty acids for depression and anxiety". Bordeaux Neurocampus (in français). Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Zaalberg, Ap; Nijman, Henk; Bulten, Erik; Stroosma, Luwe; van der Staak, Cees (March 2010). "Effects of nutritional supplements on aggression, rule-breaking, and psychopathology among young adult prisoners". Aggressive Behavior. 36 (2): 117–126. doi:10.1002/ab.20335. ISSN 1098-2337. PMID 20014286.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 z3081268 (2013-12-17). "Junk food can harm memory in a week". UNSW Newsroom. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Obesity and Food Addiction Summit". www.foodaddictionsummit.org. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Xavier Fioramenti, INRA Researcher". Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Ribeiro Lab | Behaviour and Metabolism". Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Itskov, Pavel M.; Ribeiro, Carlos (2013). "The Dilemmas of the Gourmet Fly: The Molecular and Neuronal Mechanisms of Feeding and Nutrient Decision Making in Drosophila". Frontiers in Neuroscience. 7. doi:10.3389/fnins.2013.00012. ISSN 1662-453X. PMID 23407678.
  9. "Felice Jacka – Food and Mood Centre". Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  10. UBx, Symposium. "Scientific coordinator : Dr. Sophie Layé". symposium.u-bordeaux.fr. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  11. "Person". neuro.fchampalimaud.org. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  12. "Caroline Habold - Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert CURIEN (IPHC)". www.iphc.cnrs.fr. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  13. "Caroline Habold - CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research)". LIFE+ Alister - Grand Hamster Alsace. 2017-10-18. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  14. Research, F. A. B. "FAB: Ap Zaalberg, PhD". www.fabresearch.org. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  15. "Soyoung Q Park Heads New Department of Decision Neuroscience at DIfE". www.dzd-ev.de. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  16. "Soyoung Park". www.ewi-psy.fu-berlin.de. 2019-09-02. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  17. "Professor Margaret Morris". UNSW Medicine. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  18. Emerge Interactive | www.emergeinteractive.com. "Oregon Research Institute". www.ori.org. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  19. "Eric Stice, Ph.D." RiverMend Health. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  20. admin. "John Cryan - APC Microbiome Ireland | University College Cork". APC Microbiome Ireland. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  21. "University College Cork". UCC. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  22. "John Cryan". TEDMED. Retrieved 2020-04-26.

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