High Fat Meals May Cause Memory Decline in Diabetic Seniors

Author:  Neil Majithia
Institution:  Virginia Commonwealth University
Date:  July 2008

According to a recent study at the University of Toronto, unhealthy, high fat meals may cause immediate memory decline in seniors with type 2 diabetes. The research, which appears in the July edition of Nutrition Research, also finds antioxidant vitamins C and E helpful in offsetting potential memory problems.

"Our bottom line is that consuming unhealthy meals for those with diabetes can temporarily further worsen already underlying memory problems associated with the disease," said lead author Michael Herman Chui.

In recent years, studies have shown a link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, as well as general cognitive decline. Highly reactive molecules called free radicals place oxidative stress on brain tissue in a process that is elevated following the consumption of unhealthy foods. Damage occurs quickly, usually between one and three hours after eating.

To lessen the turmoil caused by oxidative stress, the study recommends taking antioxidant vitamin C and E supplements with the unhealthy meal. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and thus minimize damage to brain tissue. In seniors with type 2 diabetes, whose memory centers seem to be particularly vulnerable, this means minimizing memory decline.

Dr. Carol Greenwood, senior author of the study, and nationally recognized expert in the nutrition-brain relationship, suggests the antioxidant supplement is not a panacea. "While our study looked at the pill form of antioxidants, we would ultimately want individuals to consume healthier foods high in antioxidants, like fruits and vegetables."

In the study, 16 adults (50 years or older) with type 2 diabetes participated in sessions three times a week, in which three types of meals were administered. In one session, the group received a danish pastry, cheddar cheese, and yogurt with whipped cream. In the second session, they consumed only water. The last meal was high in fat, but taken with high doses of vitamin C and E tablets.

15 minutes after the meal, participants were subjected to a series of neuro-psychological tests lasting 90 minutes. The tests focused on recall by measuring the ability of patients to remember words and other information heard in a passage. From the results, the investigative team hypothesized oxidative stress in the hippocampus (the brain's memory center) was responsible for poor recall after fatty meals. The results were better for the sessions that included antioxidant supplements during the meal, but the mechanism behind this is not yet established. Scores taken after water-consumption served as a control to measure baseline cognitive ability.

The team emphasizes the need for larger scale studies, as well as an increased focus on antioxidants to determine whether vitamins C and E actually interfere with oxidative stress, or if they simply mask memory decline by some parallel memory enhancing pathway.

Written by Neil Majithia

Reviewed by Falishia Sloan

Published by Pooja Ghatalia.