High-fat diets linked to poorer brain function

February 27, 2001 in Healthy Eating

High-fat diets linked to poorer brain function

Animal research from The University of Toronto suggests that fat-laden meal plans can take a toll on the brain by effectively starving it of its energy supply.

In experiments with rats, investigators found that putting the animals on high-fat diets slowed their ability to learn new tasks. Compared with rats eating a standard diet, the animals on a high fat diet performed more poorly on tests of learning and memory.

The study's authors believe high-fat diets may hinder brain function by promoting resistance to insulin, a hormone that plays a key role in controlling blood sugar. Insulin resistance (a condition in which the body loses its sensitivity to insulin) is a precursor to diabetes. Since obesity is a key trigger of insulin resistance, any high-calorie lifestyle may increase the risk of diabetes.

This theory that high fat diets and cause brain impairment through insulin resistance is supported by studies suggesting that diabetics often suffer a decline in certain mental functions such as long-term memory.

Moreover, there is evidence from human studies that carbohydrates may boost memory. In a small study of older adults, the University of Toronto researchers found that a breakfast of mashed potatoes or barley gave a lift to participants' performance on memory tests. A diet lacking in carbohydrates essentially cuts off the brain's main energy supply--glucose, or sugar. In addition, a scarcity of glucose can impede the synthesis of acetylcholine, a chemical involved in transmitting nerve signals in the brain.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.