Saturated Fat Linked to Poorer Memory, Brain Changes

Rats on high saturated-fat diet show more working memory errors on test, hippocampal changes

MONDAY, June 23 (HealthDay News) -- A diet high in cholesterol and saturated fat was associated with memory impairment and hippocampal changes in rats, according to research published in June in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Ann-Charlotte Granholm, Ph.D., of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, and colleagues analyzed data from experiments on 16-month-old rats fed a control diet containing unsaturated soybean oil or an experimental diet with the same amount of cholesterol and saturated fats for eight weeks. The researchers tested the animals' memory using a water radial arm maze.

The rats on the saturated-fat diet made more working memory errors on the maze tests, in a manner suggesting that the diet interfered with the ability to handle a higher working memory load, the investigators report. Map 2 immunoreactivity in the hippocampus of experimental animals was reduced; Map 2 is a protein used to assess dendritic integrity. In addition, Map 2 reduction was associated with more errors, the report indicates.

"The present study is the first to demonstrate significant effects of hydrogenated coconut oil on both memory function and hippocampal morphology in the middle-aged rat. Importantly, the serum levels of cholesterol correlated significantly to working memory errors, suggesting that the older rat may be a suitable model for examining diet-related effects of different fatty acids on memory. Further studies will be necessary to determine the biological mechanisms for these significant dietary effects on brain function, and perhaps help in clarifying the role of multiple pathways associated with changes in plasma cholesterol levels on cognition," the authors write.

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