Researchers have discovered another reason to avoid junk food. Eat excess trans fats, and your mind may retain less. Dr. Beatrice Golomb’s team scrutinized these fats’ possible effects on retentiveness after previous research showed that chocolate enhanced recall among young through middle-aged adults. Its antioxidant properties support cell energy that’s important for the brain’s hippocampus, which is vital for memorization. Because pro-oxidant trans fats can harm cell energy, the investigators reasoned that they also might have the opposite effect and impact memory functioning adversely.
Exploring the Memory Connection
A new study found that men who consumed large amounts of Trans fats recalled fewer words during memory tests. Based on their dietary questionnaires, scientists estimated how much of these bad fats approximately 1,000 healthy men age 20 and up ingested. They assessed their memory skills by showing them 104 cards containing one word each. These men had to determine if the word on each successive card was a repetition or new.
Many of the high-fat consumers recalled fewer words, compared to those who had lower levels. Subjects recollected an average of 86 words, representing a significant functional detriment. For every additional gram of this unsaturated fat a subject ate per day, he remembered 0.76 less words. So the higher a man’s trans-fat intake was, the worse his performance became. That translates to men with elevated levels recognizing 11 or 12 fewer terms. Those who ingested the most fats had around a 10-percent decrease in their word recall than men who ate the lowest amounts.
The strongest links between these unhealthy fats and worsened memory occurred in younger and middle-aged subjects during their career-building and working years. Among the under-45 group, the men who ate the most trans fats had markedly worse test performances. Golomb says that these results held even after filtering for typical demographic attributes including age, ethnicity, education, and depression that affect memory sharpness.
While these aren’t the first findings to link retention problems with high-fat foods, this study is among the first that examines a large pool of younger male adults. In 2012, other researchers found memory challenges in older women who ate all types of fat in higher amounts. Similar results occurred among young women in a 2013 study.
Unfortunately, research hasn’t established a direct connection between trans fats and recollection deficits. Although this study didn’t demonstrate cause and effect, the researchers offered possible explanations. Ingesting these fats in large quantities may trigger oxidative stress, which might damage or kill brain cells that are crucial for retention. The oxidation process also can contribute to cancer and heart disease. Golomb notes that these harmful fats also sap energy, which might render lethargic brain cells less responsive. Depriving them of necessary energy takes their operation offline.
Examining Additional Health Warnings
Dr. Olivia Okereke, who studied the same concern in a population of older women, considers oxidative stress possible. But she wonders if other factors from the subjects’ lives might have led to memory drawbacks. Many who consumed the most Trans fats also might have the unhealthiest lifestyles.
Other research shows that these fats increase bad LDL cholesterol while decreasing good HDL levels. If your diet is high enough in trans fats to impair your memory, you may need cholesterol tests and heart disease screening. Simcor combines niacin and simvastatin to lower total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing HDL.
Golomb reports that previous research links these unsaturated fats to additional outcomes including heart disease, weight gain, mood and behavior alterations, and increased aggression and depression. She warns patients that trans fats do more than just extend food shelf life. They also shorten the length of your life.
Announcing Helpful Actions
With obesity so rampant today, federal government officials and doctors want to eliminate or reduce unhealthy fat intake. The American Heart Association recommends restricting trans fats to two grams per day. That amount occurs naturally in the meats and dairy products most people eat. Problems start generally with high processed food consumption. Manufacturers produce artificial trans fats including partially hydrogenated oils so foods will stay fresh longer. You’ll find them in processed foods, packaged baked goods, margarines, coffee creamers, frozen pizzas, snack foods, refrigerated dough, and fast food.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated that manufacturers include fat amounts on their food nutrition labels in 2006. Many companies reduced these fats in their products as well. Unfortunately for consumers, this law allows manufacturers to label products with up to 0.5 grams as trans-fat free.
According to Dr. Martha Daviglus, this study emphasizes the importance of being careful about your dietary habits due to their consequences. Because people are living longer today, maintaining your cognitive abilities and recall are important. So reversing this potential damage is key. She contends that replacing trans fats with healthy foods could reverse potential memory deficiencies. A well-balanced diet with a plentiful supply of vegetables and fruits still might be the key to staying healthy.