A new study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that certain types
of fat were associated with worse memory and overall cognitive function.
It has been known for years that eating too many foods
containing “bad” fats, such as saturated fats or trans fats, isn’t
healthy for your heart. However, according to new research from Brigham
and Women’s Hospital (BWH), one “bad” fat—saturated fat—was found to be
associated with worse overall cognitive function and memory in women
over time. By contrast, a “good” fat—mono-unsaturated fat was associated
with better overall cognitive function and memory.
This study is published online by Annals of Neurology, a journal of the
American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society, on May
The research team analyzed data from the Women’s Health Study—originally
a cohort of nearly 40,000 women, 45 years and older. The researchers
focused on data from a subset of 6,000 women, all over the age of 65.
The women participated in three cognitive function tests, which were
spaced out every two years for an average testing span of four years.
These women filled out very detailed food frequency surveys at the start
of the Women’s Health Study, prior to the cognitive testing.
“When looking at changes in cognitive function, what we found is that
the total amount of fat intake did not really matter, but the type of
fat did,” explained Olivia Okereke, MD, MS, BWH Department of Psychiatry.
Women who consumed the highest amounts of saturated fat, which can come
from animal fats such as red meat and butter, compared to those who
consumed the lowest amounts, had worse overall cognition and memory over
the four years of testing. Women who ate the most of the monounsaturated
fats, which can be found in olive oil, had better patterns of cognitive
scores over time.
“Our findings have significant public health implications, ” said
Okereke. “Substituting in the good fat in place of the bad fat is a
fairly simple dietary modification that could help prevent decline in
Okereke notes that strategies to prevent cognitive decline in older
people are particularly important. Even subtle declines in cognitive
functioning can lead to higher risk of developing more serious problems,
like dementia and Alzheimer disease.
This work was supported by research grants and awards from the National
Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
(HL043851 and HL080467); NIH/National Cancer Institute (CA047988); and
NIH/National Institute on Aging (AG015933 and K08 AG029813).