‘Bad’ Fat May Hurt Brain Function Over Time

FRIDAY, May 18 (HealthDay News) — Women who eat a lot of “bad”  saturated fat may hurt their overall brain function and memory over time,  Harvard University researchers report.

In contrast, eating more “good” monounsaturated fat improved brain  function and memory, suggesting that fats may have the same effect on the  brain as they do on the heart, the researchers added.

“Making changes and substitutions in one’s diet to eat fewer saturated  fats and consume more monounsaturated fats might be a way to help prevent  cognitive decline in older people,” said lead researcher Dr. Olivia  Okereke, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.  “This is important because cognitive decline affects millions of older  people. So, this is a promising area of research.”

Just like exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking,  this may be another modifiable factor in the fight against mental decline,  Okereke added.

“Such modifiable factors are important because these are things that  people can actually change and over which they can exert some individual control,”  she said.

The report was published in the May 18 online edition of the Annals  of Neurology.

For the study, Okereke’s team collected data on 6,000 women who took  part in the U.S. Women’s Health Study.

These women took three brain function tests every two years over an  average span of four years.

In addition, they filled out detailed food questionnaires at the start  of the study and before the brain tests.

The researchers found that over time, women who ate the highest amounts  of saturated fat had the worst overall brain function and memory, compared  to the women who ate the least.

Moreover, women who ate the most monounsaturated fats had higher scores  on brain tests over the four years of testing, they note.

Saturated fat comes from animal fats such as red meat and butter, while  monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil and other vegetable  products.

In the study, the researchers accounted for many things that could  influence the findings, including age, education, exercise, smoking,  drinking, medication use and health conditions. This is done to ensure  that the findings are not due to better health behaviors among certain  women.

“We think it is unlikely that these findings regarding dietary fat  would be primarily explained by a healthy lifestyle in those with more  education,” Okereke said.

Although this study was among women, “it would make sense that the  basic underlying reasons for the findings we saw in women should also  apply to men,” she added.

Samantha Heller, a dietitian, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and  clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin  Hospital in Derby, Conn., commented that “it appears that the effects of  eating a lot of saturated fat and the foods associated with it, such as  red and processed meats, cheese and butter, over time creates a cascade  effect of ill-health.”

This study supports others that have found an association between  saturated fats, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and an increased  decline in brain function, she said.

“Saturated fat has been associated with an increased risk of  atherosclerosis, cancer and diabetes, and may increase fat storage in your  abdomen — commonly referred to as ‘ab flab,'” Heller said.

“Ab flab in and of itself increases the risk for heart disease,  diabetes, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.

The evidence is stacking up against consuming saturated fat regularly,  Heller said.

“To lower your intake of saturated fat, choose low or nonfat dairy  foods such as fat-free milk and yogurt. Stick with skinless poultry and  fish. Limit red and processed meats such as beef, pork, lamb, hot dogs or  bologna, to a few times a month. Experiment with meatless meals such as  veggie burgers, spinach-eggplant lasagna, or black bean, corn and avocado  tacos,” she advised

Alzheimer, Alzheimer’s disease, Annals of Neurology, Fat, Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Health, Monounsaturated fat, Saturated fat

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