Sunday, May 20, 2012

Brain suffers from eating 'bad' fat

With food, it is important to know what you eat. Not everything is equally healthy, and sometimes good and bad forms of a particular food component can be distinguished. Such is the case with fat: it comes in good and bad shapes. They are better known as unsaturated and saturated fats, the latter being the unhealthy one. Saturated variants have been associated with increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, even though this is still being debated. A recent study from Brigham and Women's Hospital revealed that which type of fat you consume also matters for the brain. Changing your diet could therefore help you perform better.

The scientists looked at the medical data of around 6000 women of 45 years and older, and tried to find a correlation between brain function and food consumption pattern. All of the women performed cognitive and memory tests every two years, which were analyzed to assess whether fat consumption had any effect on the natural patterns of brain decline; it is known that our brain cells slowly die off when we age, which for some people can lead to dementia or other chronic brain dysfunctions.
Women consuming high amounts of saturated fats were found to decline more rapidly in cognitive and memory function, compared to those consuming low amounts. However, participants consuming high amounts of unsaturated fat were found to have better cognitive function. It seems therefore that the type of fat you eat influences brain decline. No effect for the amount of fat that the participants consumed was found: only the type of fat, good or bad, seemed to matter.

For cholesterol, which basically is also a type of fat, things are a bit more complicated. Molecules such as HDL and LDL are well-known as good and bad forms of cholesterol, even though they are mere transporters. A recent study showed that the good HDL form may actually not be so good at all, as no positive health outcomes were associated with it. Cholesterol can be harmful when it accumulates in our arteries, leading to obstructions and ruptures, but HDL is supposed to transport it back to the liver where it can be recycled. Nevertheless, no positive health outcomes were found when scientists looked at higher levels of HDL, indicating that labels such as good and bad might not be that functional.

Because of the outcome, it is clear that changes in dietary pattern by substituting saturated for unsaturated fats can help preserve your brain function. Because cognitive decline is impossible to stop in elderly people, adapting your diet can be of importance. Naturally, the scientists only found a correlation between intake of saturated foods and cognitive decline, meaning the mechanism behind it still needs to be elucidated. It is also necessary to replicate these findings with men, of course. 

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