Low Trans Fat Diet Equals Better Brain Function in Elderly

An article by Joseph Brownstein  on Live Science, reports a new study indicates that living a low trans fat lifestyle leads to better brain health in the elderly. “Older people with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins B, C, D, and E in their blood do better on cognitive tests than those with lower levels”, according to the study. Not only that, the study also found that high levels of trans fats actually hurt cognition.

Rubens Study of an Old Man
Rubens Study of an Old Man Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Gene Bowman, an assistant professor of neurology at Oregon Health and Science University, headed up the study. It involved 104 people with the average age of 87. The study was a follow up to a former study to address the problem of people not remembering what they ate. Drawing blood allows for scientists to measure the dietary intake of people and eliminates common mistakes people make when filling out questionnaires . The study was meant to discover the role diet plays in the aging brain.

Feeding the Brain

Recent research is starting to show that there is a definite correlation between brain function and what we eat. Trans fats have been the target of scrutiny among heart researchers and now Bowman believes, “it’s not too much of stretch to think that they’re bad for the brain”. Not only did the presence of trans fats hurt cognitive function, but researchers found a correlation between trans fats and brain shrinkage. If the findings of this study are confirmed, this may give doctors another tool to determine whether patients may need to supplement their diets to decrease the chances of cognitive decline.

Sources of Trans Fats

Trans fats were once thought to be a good thing. They increased the shelf life of many products and addressed the shortage of butterfats in the early 1900’s. It didn’t take long before the negative affects of trans fats were seen. According to Wikipedia, studies were showing the negative affects on coronary artery disease as early as 1956.  Trans fats are dangerous because they raise “LDL” (bad cholesterol levels) in the blood. Not only that, they also lower “HDL” (good cholesterol) in the blood. As of January 2006, the FDA requires all food labels to list trans fats.

WebMD lists these food types on their website as potential sources of trans fat:

  • cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough, and breads such as hamburger buns
  • some stick margarine and vegetable shortening
  • pre-mixed cake mixes, pancake mixes, and chocolate drink mixes
  • fried foods, including donuts, French fries, chicken nuggets, and hard taco shells
  • snack foods, including chips, candy, and packaged or microwave popcorn
  • frozen dinners
In conclusion, this study barely scratches the surface of the affects of trans fats in brain aging and is not without criticism. For instance, one critic states that the study was done mostly on well educated white people. There is a call for a more diverse population to be studied. It does however, seem to fit in with recent research that diet has a definite affect on cognitive function in the aging brain.

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Darrin Jenkins

Darrin is an IT manager for a large electrical contractor in Louisville KY. He is married and has 3 kids. He loves helping people with their technology needs. He runs a blog called Say Geek!