We have a fatty brain.  Fat plays many vital roles in brain function.  In the past, very little attention was given to the influence of dietary fats upon our mental state.   Recent multiple lines of evidence indicate that it might be possible to manipulate our dietary fat intact in order to treat or prevent disorders of cognitive function.

A study to be published in the Journal of Neurochemistry by a group from Universite Laval in Quebec compared the effects of monounsaturated fats from olive and canola oils with polyunsaturated fats from meat, fish and vegetable oils upon a variety of biochemical changes and electrical properties of cells within a brain region that is critical for learning and memory

The diets contained five percent total fat; the remainder of the diet contained a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fibers, vitamins and minerals.  The diets only differed by the type of fat present, i.e. monounsaturated vs polyunsaturated. 

After eleven months, the diets significantly changed the profile of fats within the brain.  Essentially, a diet high in monounsaturated fats altered the basic chemistry and electrical properties of the brain in such a way that learning was enhanced, age-related cognitive decline slowed and the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease was reduced.  A diet high in monounsaturated fats is often referred to as the Mediterranean diet. 

A diet high in monounsaturated fats also lead to an increase in the production and release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.  Acetylcholine is critical for learning and memory; the loss of acetylcholine production in the brain leads to the memory problems associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  These findings support the addition of canola and olive oils to the diet and further demonstrate that sensible nutritional choices are vital for optimal brain function and good mental health.

© Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D.  Author of Your Brain on Food (Oxford University Press)

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