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Excess Fat And Sugar Can Lead To Cognitive Decline

Cognitive Decline

A diet high in fats and sugars can lead to cognitive decline. This finding, Medical News Today reports, is based on experiments carried out using mice; however, scientists are concerned that the same effect might be seen in humans.

The reason is attributed to a change in the types of microorganisms found in the intestines (the so-called gut microbiome). Previous research has established that variations in diet influence the bacteria of the gut, and that this is related to a greater chance of obesity with some people. Furthermore, a recent study showed that gut bacteria can influence the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for maintaining feelings of happiness and sadness.

With the new research, mice were divided into two groups. One group was fed a normal diet and the other group eat a diet rich in fats and sugars. Over time, different cognitive tests were conducted, such as mazes. It was found that the ability of the mice, fed the very rich diet, to navigate the maze declined relative to the control group. The difference in performance was noticeable around the four week mark.

According to Kathy Magnusson, a professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, the reasons are: “Bacteria can release compounds that act as neurotransmitters, stimulate sensory nerves or the immune system, and affect a wide range of biological functions.”

The scientist also added: “We’re not sure just what messages are being sent, but we are tracking down the pathways and the effects.”

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, the types of food that are high in fat include:

  • Margarine and butter,
  • Cooking oils and oil-based salad dressings,
  • Mayonnaise,
  • Cream,
  • Fried foods including fried chips,
  • Chocolate, some crisps and biscuits (check the nutrition labels),
  • Pastries, cakes, puddings and ice-cream.

And the types of foods that are high in sugar include:

  • Soft drinks,
  • Sweets,
  • Jam,
  • Sugar, honey,
  • Cakes, puddings, biscuits, pastries and ice-cream.

It is important to point out that the studies have only been undertaken on animals. The effects may not necessarily translate to people and further study will be required.

The research was conducted at Oregon State University. The findings have been reported to the journal Neuroscience, in a study headed “Relationships between diet-related changes in the gut microbiome and cognitive flexibility.”

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.

  • Rezeya Montecore

    So, no actual information yet, just the usual clickbaity headline. Well, my cognition hasn’t declined that much. Instead of parroting this like it’s established fact, I’ll wait until they can translate all this into practical, real-world consequences instead of this airy poof of a preliminary study.

    • Rick Leonardi

      You sound like a smoker in the 60’s who was waiting for tobacco companies to admit it kills people before they quite. Why not be proactive and take it as a warning instead? Might save your life.

      • Kyle Jackson

        Quite the preachy one aren’t you.

      • AnonTheMouse

        The problem is that, in this case, the data is inconclusive at best. The study being used to produce these findings apparently fails to differentiate cause and effect, making its findings largely useless. They determined that mice with a diet higher in fats and sugars tend to perform worse (nebulous terms) in mazes. From this, they conclude that the mice must have lowered cognitive ability. However, lack of intelligence isn’t the only reason we would expect to see reduced performance. For instance, two other possibilities immediately spring to my mind. Given that running mazes is a physical activity, and the test mice are being given a high-fat diet, they could simply be overweight, lethargic, and/or out of shape. Alternatively, it is important to remember that the mice are not volunteers, but are being lured to seek out the centre of the maze. Given that the most commonly used lure is the scent of food, it’s not unreasonable to expect that mice with a higher-calorie diet would find this to be less of a motivator than those with a leaner one, and thus seek it out with less urgency. So, without more data, with less room for error, we simply can’t draw a useful conclusion.

    • The research does not state any established facts, it merely points to further research. Moreover, it is about an animal model.

  • Brian Botticelli

    I’ll trade a few IQ points for some of that stuff on the list. Mmmm… Fried foods including fried chips… Ahgggh

    • Rick Leonardi

      Yea we can tell you’ve already traded in more than a few IQ point Brian. Keep going buddy.

  • Gerard ter Beke

    So there’s no telling if the problem is the sugar or the fat, or the combination. Not very useful.

  • Blaq Panther

    Oh so you found a link between lower IQ and poor diet? So doctor, much wow.

    • Fusselkater

      I would love to see the mice taking an IQ test.

  • Gabriel John

    My first thought is that a well-fed mouse is less incentivized in testing. Did I miss something in the article?

    • AnonTheMouse

      Thank you. This was my thought as well. Given that it is impossible to communicate with the mice to find out why they perform worse, the entire test is really only based on their ability and willingness to perform a physical activity. At the very least, without more data, we cannot rule out the far more likely possibility that a fatty diet had no direct effect on intelligence, but simply made the mice lethargic and fat.

  • Nat Burns

    This is terrible science. Nothing is indicated here. Why are people still defending the dogma of fat is bad when we know it isn’t. Sugar is the culprit, we have so much evidence that carbohydrates cause decline in cognitive ability, not fats. In fact fats improve brain function when you lower the carbohydrates.

    • catpea33

      Yes, it would have been far more instructive to separate the sugar and fat eating group into individual sugar and fat groups. I’m 99.9% certain that, based on previous peer-reviewed research on the same topic, that sugar is the culprit.

      • Victor Grayson

        The researchers did so, if you read the paper.

        • That’s right Victor, it is very clear.

          • catpea33

            42% fat and 43% carbs is NOT a high fat diet. 70%+ fat would be considered high fat.

        • catpea33

          They didn’t though. 42% fat and 43% carbohydrate isn’t a high fat diet, as they claim. Rather, 70% fat would be considered a high fat diet by researchers, e.g. Phinney and Volek, who spend their lives studying high fat diets and their effects.

    • Charley Victoria James

      Agreed! If I’m not mistaken, the brain is mostly fat. Good, healthy fats are amazing for the brain and I’ll be damned if some “science” tries to tell me having some coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil in my diet is going to cause my brain to decline.

      • The research does not suggest that all fats are bad. It is about obesity and the affect on the intenstinal microbial community.

    • It is clearly state the research is a small scale animal study. It does not directly suggest that the results apply to people.

  • John

    It would be very valuable research the link between diet and brain function. This could validate the work Elaine Gottschall’s work on the SCD diet, that cuts out all complex carbohydrates, including sugar, with demonstrated improvements in brain function in autistic children

  • kraftzion

    It amazes me that flour is never mentioned in any of these studies. You want to loose weight, quit eating bread, cheetos, crackers, etc.