Healthy Fats May Help Keep Your Mind Sharper With Age
Summary of this study
Researchers studied 482 women ages 60 and older to see if the type of fat in their diet affected their ability to process, understand, and remember information. These mental processes are known as cognition. The researchers found that the more healthy, monounsatured fats like olive oil the women got in their diets, the less their cognition declined over time, particularly in terms of their memory and ability to process visual information.
The 482 women in this study were 60 or older and enrolled in the Cognitive Change in Women study, part of the Women's Health Institute. Researchers performed initial cognitive testing on the women between January 1998 and November 2003, with follow-up assessments 3 years later. They also had the women complete questionnaires about what they ate over a 3-month period, then figured out the amount and type of fat in the womens' diets.
What they found
The more monounsaturated fats the women had in their diets the less their cognition declined during the three years. A high intake of this "good" fat was particularly beneficial in terms of memory and the ability to interpret information visually. The researchers also found, however, that the amount of saturated and trans fatty acids in the women's diet had no effect on their cognition; in other words, the "bad" fats didn't make their memory or thinking abilities any worse.
What this means
"As we suspected, following a healthy diet high in monounsaturated fats may help protect your memory and thinking abilities as you age," said study author Asghar Z. Naqvi, MD. Reasons for the effect may relate to the ability of monounsaturated fats to quell inflammation, which can harm cognition and even lead to Alzheimer's disease. These healthy fats are also powerful antioxidants, which help protect fragile brain cells. And, he added, a diet higher in healthy fats may reduce the risk of heart disease by improving cholesterol levels.
What You Can Do
Limit your consumption of red meat and eliminate all whole-fat dairy. Stick to skim milk and nonfat yogurt; eat lean protein like white-meat chicken, fish, and legumes; and use olive oil, canola oil, or other vegetable oils in place of butter or other fats. Other good sources of monounsaturated fat are avocados and many nuts and seeds.
This study is from the full report titled "Monounsaturated, Trans and Saturated Fatty Acids and Cognitive Decline in Women." It is in the May 2011 issue of The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The report is authored by Asghar Z. Naqvi, MD, MPH, MNS; Brian Harty, MS; Kenneth J. Mukamal, MD, MPH, MA; Anne M. Stoddard, ScD; Mara Vitolins, DrPH, MPH, RD; and Julie E. Dunn, PhD.