High-fat diets hammer memory, more than a waistline worry

evidence that fast food diets, particularly a diet high in saturated fats, can have an adverse effect on learning and memory," he says.

Halagappa and Mattson took the work a step further to find out how a high-fat diet might affect the response of nerve cells involved in learning and memory to stress. They designed an experiment in which mice that had been on the four different diets were exposed to a neurotoxin called kainic acid, which is known to damage nerve cells in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning and memory. When mice on the control diet or the high-sugar diet were exposed to kainic acid, their learning and memory were somewhat impaired. In contrast, the memory of mice on the high-fat and high-fat, high-sugar diets was severely impaired by the neurotoxin.

"These findings show that fast food diets impaired memory acquisition in mice and made their brains more vulnerable to kainate-induced cognitive dysfunction," says Halagappa. "If such diets have similar effects in humans, then reducing the amount of fat and empty calories may improve one's memory and increase resistance to age- and stress-related cognitive impairment."

In other work supporting the notion that a high-fat diet can result in impaired learning and memory, John Morley, MD, and his colleagues Susan Farr, PhD, and William Banks, PhD, in the division of geriatric medicine at the VA Medical Center in St. Louis compared obese CD-1 mice with normal-weight CD-1 mice in learning and memory of a T-maze footshock avoidance test and a lever press memory test.

Obese mice were fed a diet containing about 10 percent fat for seven months, while control mice were fed standard lab chow containing only 5 percent fat. At eight months of age, the mice on the high-fat diet weighed about 60 percent more than the mice on the regular diet.

The mice were trained to avoid a shock to their feet in a T maze until

Contact: Leah Ariniello
Society for Neuroscience

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