Rat study shows high-fat diet impairs concentration and memory

People on high-fat diets may not only be increasing their risk of heart disease -- but they may be damaging their brain function!

A study by researchers at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care and the University of Toronto compared the cognitive function of rats on a high-fat diet similar to what humans consume if they don't eat nutritionally, with rats on lower fat, laboratory chow. After three months, the rats on high-fat diet showed severe impairment on a wide range of learning and memory tasks relative to those animals that consumed the lower fat diet. The research also showed that glucose treatment significantly improved the memory of rats fed high-fat diets.

The findings are published in the March 2001 issue of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (Vol.75, No.2).

"Our brain needs glucose -- essentially energy -- in order to function. When glucose metabolism is impeded by saturated fatty acids, it's like clogging the brain and starving it of energy," says Dr. Carol Greenwood, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto and scientist at Baycrest Centre's Kunin-Lunenfeld Applied Research Unit.

Dr. Greenwood and Dr. Gordon Winocur, a senior scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute and professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, have investigated the relationship of dietary factors and cognitive function in animals and humans in previous studies, published in major journals.

In this latest study, they investigated the hypothesis that if a high-fat diet can interfere with glucose use in the brain and impair cognitive function, then glucose injections would result in improved cognitive performance. If this were the case, they also wanted to determine if the glucose-enhanced performance was general in nature or specific to certain types of brain function.

"We found that when high-fat rats were injected with glucose, their cognitive function improved," says Dr. Winocur. "Mo

Contact: Kelly Connelly

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