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Poor Memory? This Fat May be to Blame

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Recent studies have found that a particular fat may speed memory loss and increase a person's chance of getting Alzheimer's disease. Find out more about this connection below!

Do you know the three biggest contributors to memory loss? According to new studies, the same factors that contribute to heart disease also contribute to an increased risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. These three factors include excessive sugar, a diet high in grains, and trans fat consumption. Basically, the average American diet.

According to research that started back in 1957, trans fats are highly damaging to both the arteries and the brain. Find out more about the connection between these two conditions and the affect trans fats have on the body below:

How Heart Disease and Memory Problems are Linked

Researchers from Wake Forest University published a study on the link between heart disease and Alzheimer’s risk. The study published in the March 2014 edition of JAMA Neurology, found that artery stiffness is associated with the build-up of plaque in the brain which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found that individuals with the least healthy arteries had the most plaque build-up in the brain. The study authors concluded, “This study implies that we may be able to prevent or at least delay Alzheimer's disease by proper control of cardiac risk factors.”

The Real Cause of Heart Disease

According to studies, sugar, trans fats, and a diet high in grains are more likely to lead to stiff arteries, heart disease- and consequently, dementia. In 2013, Dr. Fred Kummerow, author of Cholesterol Is Not the Culprit, published the results of his findings in a New York Times article.

According to his research, the fat most likely to clog arteries and lead to health problems is trans fat- not any other fat type. Surprisingly enough, the first indicator of this problem was published in 1957, but largely ignored by the health community. According to the research, trans fats crowded out all other types of fatty acids and led to clogged arteries and a greater risk for heart disease. All processed fats are trans fats- and anything hydrogen-treated or processed contains mainly trans fats.

Most of the “healthy” replacement fats are actually full of trans fats, like margarine and most processed junk food. Basically, trans fat is a type of fat that the body cannot break down into a usable substance because of how the hydrogenation process changes the fat. Trans fat is a toxic substance that the body cannot use, but since it is similar to other fats, the body tries to use it in the same way but it cannot. This leads to the build-up of fats in places like the arteries, liver, and stomach. However, this research has been largely ignored by the food industry.

In fact, it was not until November of 2013 that the FDA even considered the possibility of banning trans fats from the food supply. To this day, most processed foods contain at least some amount of trans fat. Even processed foods that read “0 trans fats per serving” still contain some amounts of trans fats in many cases.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that by removing trans fats from the diet, 7,000 deaths and 20,000 heart attacks will be prevented each year. Although trans fats are currently under question, it took 7 years before the FDA required food manufacturers to label the number of trans fats in each serving. It could be another 7 years or longer before trans fats are banned.

Until then, consumers can regulate their own diets by eliminating all forms of trans fats from their diet. Do not purchase products may from hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils.

Trans Fats and Memory

During the 2014 American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions, researchers published preliminary findings that revealed that trans fat can also lead to memory impairment. Just like the Wake Forest University study, individuals who ate more trans fats had reduced memory function- even at younger ages. In this study, over 1,000 middle-aged men were tested for memory function based on the level of trans fats in their diet. Men who ate the most trans fat had about a 10 percent reduction in memory function. "The higher the trans fat consumption, the worse the performance," the researchers concluded.

According to the study authors, a believable reason for why trans fat leads to memory damage is because of the pro-oxidant effect that trans fats have. Basically, trans fats have the opposite effect of antioxidants and actually contribute to cell damage. This is mainly because vegetable oils oxidize at lower temperatures when heated, which has a destructive effect on the body.

What Are Trans Fats?

According to Dr. Kummerow, trans fats are mainly found in partially hydrogenated oil and act as synthetic fatty acids. Most trans fats are produced during the hydrogenation process of fats and are not naturally present in animal or vegetable fats.

A study on trans fats conducted by the University of Illinois in 2013 found that the presence of trans fats in the body prevents the synthesis of prostacyclin. Prostacyclin is a chemical that helps the blood flow properly. Blood clots are much more likely to form with low levels of prostacyclin. When fats are oxidized, they create a form of cholesterol that causes another source of blood clotting- increased thromboxane formation. This causes the arteries to harden which increases the risk for both heart disease and dementia.

According to Dr. Kummerow, it actually is not LDL cholesterol that leads to an increased risk for heart disease but rather, oxidized LDL cholesterol. Dr. Kummerow has stated that the worst offenders for oxidizing in the body (even when not heated) are soybean, corn, and sunflower oils- three of the most prevalent oils in the world today.

Are There Fats that Help the Brain?

It turns out that cutting back on natural sources of fat is actually bad for the brain. According to research, a diet higher in fats and lower in ingredients like vegetables, fruit, and grains creates a process called ketosis. This is a metabolic state that breaks down liver glycogen (sugar produced in the liver from fat) and converts it into useable brain chemicals. The reason this is good for the body is due to the creation of a sustainable source of energy that does not cause blood sugar spikes like a diet high in carbohydrates does.

Basically, the body uses fat as fuel rather than sugar. The brain loves the source of fuel that fat provides, which can help prevent a variety of brain diseases from forming- including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

According to studies, a ketogenic diet also has antioxidant properties in the brain which prevent cells in the brain from oxidizing. Fatty acids also have an anti-inflammatory effect on the entire body, so a diet high in these fatty acids will also guard against inflammation-related memory damage. According to research, any fat that is not a trans fat can benefit the body.

However, some health professionals recommend balancing fats between omega 3 and omega 6 fats with a higher ratio of omega 3 fats as omega 6 fats can lead to further inflammation and can oxidize easier in the body.

Safe Fats to Eat
  • Animal fats (although some studies have linked diets high in saturated fat to an increase in health problems in women)
  • Vegetable fats (not processed or removed from the vegetables in any way)
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Fish oil
  • Palm oil

Simple Tips to Protect Your Memory

The first step to protecting your memory is to remove as much trans fat from your diet as possible. Most processed foods contain trans fats, as do processed oils- particularly corn, soy, and sunflower oils. Avoid these ingredients as much as possible. You probably will not be able to eliminate all sources from your diet (unless the FDA finally bans it), but if you take strides to avoid trans fat you will significantly improve your health.

Other steps you can take to protect your memory include:

Avoid Memory Pitfalls

Just like some nutrients are beneficial for the brain, some ingredients are harmful to the brain just like trans fat. According to a 2013 study from Indiana University, using anticholinergics and statin drugs for as little as 60 days caused impaired memory function. Avoid these medications as much as possible.

Mercury is also associated with memory loss. A study conducted by the Northland Environmental Health Clinic in New Zealand found that 88 percent of individuals with toxic levels of mercury had memory loss and impaired cognitive function. Aluminum may also be a culprit, although studies show conflicting reports.

Trans Fats: Damaging to the Brain

As the studies above show, consuming trans fats is one of the worst things you can do for your health overall. Trans fats contribute both to heart disease and memory loss. One of the best single things you can do for your health and memory today is to cut out trans fats from your diet. Do not wait for the FDA to finally ban the fats- ban the fats from your own diet today for memory-boosting benefits that you may be able to see within one month and definitely as you age.





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