Dr. Olivia Okereke

Oil or butter? Dr. Olivia Okereke found that higher amounts of “good” fats, like those found in olive oil, were associated with better cognitive function and memory in women.

We’ve known for some time now that eating too many foods containing “bad” fats – saturated fats or trans fats – isn’t healthy for your heart. Now it appears these fats, which are found in foods such as butter and red meat, may also be bad for your brain.

Dr. Olivia Okereke, of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Psychiatry Department, found that higher amounts of saturated fat, in particular, were linked with worse overall cognitive function and memory over time in women.

On the flip side, higher amounts of one of the “good” fats – monounsaturated fats – were associated with better overall cognitive function and memory. Foods high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, and nuts.

The BWH researchers analyzed data that included food surveys and cognitive test results from a subset of more than 6,000 women, over the age of 65, from the Women’s Health Study.

“When looking at changes in cognitive function,” says Okereke, “what we found is that the total amount of fat intake did not really matter, but the type of fat did.”

Women who consumed the highest amounts of saturated fats, compared to those who consumed the lowest amounts, had worse overall cognition and memory over four years of testing. Women who ate the most monounsaturated fats had better patterns of cognitive scores over time.

“Our findings have significant public health implications,” notes Okereke. “Substituting the good fat in place of the bad fat is a fairly simple dietary modification that could help prevent decline in memory.” (Other BWH research also has found that eating berries can prevent memory decline in older women.)

Okereke notes that strategies to prevent cognitive decline in older people are very important. Even subtle declines in cognitive functioning can lead to a higher risk of developing more serious problems, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

– MMQ

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