Trans Fats Harms Brain
Higher intake of trans fat, commonly used in processed foods to improve taste, texture, and shelf life, has been linked to worse memory function in men in their prime earning years.
Each gram per day of dietary trans fatty acid intake was associated with an estimated 0.76 fewer words recalled . This translates into 11 to 12 fewer words recalled with the highest intake vs none from a mean of 86 words.
Adjustment for systolic blood pressure, waist circumference, and body mass index, but not lipid or glycemic variables, attenuated the relationship, "consistent with mediation by factors involving, relating to, or concurrently influencing, these factors," the investigators write.
These observational data in humans are buttressed by experimental data in animals [in that] rats fed trans fats have impaired memory acquisition.
"In terms of brain function more broadly, our work has previously shown an association between trans fat consumption and worse mood and more aggressive behaviors. Thus, trans fats show adverse associations with two of the other key pillars of brain function, mood and behavior.
A large body of research has linked trans fat intake to other health risks, including higher rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Complete avoidance of industrial trans fats is a very reasonable dietary recommendation. Evolution did not intend or prepare for exposure, there is no need for these fats, and they are adversely associated with an array of outcomes. The evidence really does support that trans fats improve the shelf life of food ― but reduce the shelf life of patients.
Frequently, individuals who consume diets with higher levels of trans fat tend to consume less healthy diets in general ― for example, fewer fruits and vegetables and whole grains and more commercially prepared baked and fried foods. To fully evaluate the study, it would be important to see the full scope of the nutrients and food group in the diet and some estimate of diet quality, and then see whether there are additional associations with memory or whether it is unique to trans fat.
We currently recommend people consume as little trans fat as possible. These new findings would not change that recommendation.
The proper nutrition is essential for cognitive function.
The association of obesity with cognitive decline and that intake of trans fatty acids may mediate the influence of obesity on cognitive function. As a neurologist, I am frequently asked how to prevent dementia and preserve memory. With this and other evidence, I can confidently counsel my patients to avoid food with high trans fats. After all, sharp minds run on lean diets.
Recently the US Food and Drug Administration announced regulations requiring food manufacturers to remove partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the main source of artificial trans fat, from processed foods in the next 3 years.
Artificial trans fat in processed foods are not "generally recognized as safe" for use in human food, and the elimination of PHOs could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7000 deaths from heart disease each year, the FDA said.