Drop That Doughnut — It May Save Your Memory

High trans fat consumption may lead to memory decline in young and middle aged men

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Having trouble remembering things lately? Maybe you’re eating too many trans fats. Found in many fast foods, trans fats are already known to be bad for the heart. But they may harm your memory as well.

New research found that some young to middle-aged men who ate a diet high in trans fats had various health issues, including memory problems.

"We've known for quite a while that artificial trans fats, vegetable oils that have had hydrogen molecules added to them, are considered to be unhealthy," said Rusty Gregory, wellness coach, personal fitness trainer and author of "Self-Care Reform: How to Discover Your Own Path to Good Health" and "Living Wheat-Free For Dummies."

"These partially hydrogenated fats are thought to contribute to increases in abdominal fat (the unhealthiest kind), heart disease and stroke," Gregory said. "The jury is still out on whether trans fat consumption leads to type 2 diabetes, but it is possible that it does. The connection of trans fats to memory is certainly an interesting one."

Beatrice A. Golomb, MD, professor of medicine at the University of California-San Diego, conducted the study with Alexis K. Bui, BS.

“From a health standpoint, trans fats consumption has been linked to higher body weight, more aggression and heart disease,” Dr. Golomb said in a press release.

“As I tell patients, while trans fats increase the shelf life of foods, they reduce the shelf life of people.”

These researchers analyzed data on about 1,000 healthy men. They assessed the patients' trans fats consumption from data the patients provided on dietary surveys. They assessed memory with a test based on remembering words.

In the memory test, the researchers showed the patients 104 cards with words printed on them. The patients had to indicate whether they were seeing the word for the first time or they had seen it on a prior card.

Men younger than 45 who ate more trans fats performed worse on the word memory test. These study authors estimated that every additional gram of trans fats consumed resulted in about 0.76 fewer words recalled.

Patients who ate the most trans fats recalled 11 fewer words in the test than those who ate the least trans fats.

Margarine, snack foods, coffee creamers, some refrigerated doughs, frozen pizza and baked goods like doughnuts can be loaded with trans fats. These fats pack a double-whammy when it comes to cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic. They’ve been found to raise "bad" cholesterol (LDL) and lower "good" cholesterol (HDL).

The study authors pointed out that trans fats can have a negative effect on cell energy. Trans fats are “prooxidant.” That means they create oxidative stress, which can damage cells and tissues. Oxidative stress is thought to contribute to heart disease and cancer.

Foods that are rich in antioxidants, such as chocolate, may have the opposite effect — they may boost memory. In a past study, Dr. Golomb tied chocolate consumption to better word memory in young to middle-aged adults. Antioxidants, on the other hand, can reduce oxidative stress.

Trans fats are manufactured artificially. They are intended to extend the shelf life of foods. They keep oils in a solid form at room temperature. The US Food and Drug Administration is taking measures to limit the amount of trans fats in food.

Dr. Golomb told dailyRx News that she advises people to eat "foods," not "anti-foods."

"I confine the term 'foods' to substances that feed cells the nutrients and antioxidants they need to function and remain healthy," she told dailyRx News. "I use the term 'anti-foods' for those artificial substances, including industrially produced trans fats, added to [edible] products that are prooxidant or otherwise adverse to cell health and function.”

The authors noted that further studies are needed to determine whether the effects of trans fats extend to women and people younger than 45.

This study was presented Nov. 18 at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2014 in Chicago. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

The study authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 18, 2014
Last Updated:
November 21, 2014