Diet High in Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Protects Against Memory Loss

Diet High in Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

What you eat now could prevent loss of memory and mental ability later in life. According to a study published in the May 1999 issue of Neurology, the American Academy of Neurology’s scientific journal, a diet high in monounsaturated fatty acids protects against a decline in memory performance and cognitive processing functions often associated with aging.

Study author Antonio Capurso, M.D., of the University of Bari, Italy, said, "It appears that high monounsaturated fatty acid intakes, mostly present in vegetable oils and particularly in extra-virgin olive oil, the main fat of the Mediterranean diet, protect from age-related cognitive decline."

‘Age-related cognitive decline’ indicates a mild but objective deterioration in memory or intellectual functioning associated with the aging process, but within normal limits given the person’s age, that cannot be attributed to a specific neurological or psychiatric disorder.

"In our study, high monounsaturated fatty acid intake was associated with the preservation of cognitive functions in healthy, elderly people," Capurso said. "This effect could be related to the role the fatty acids play in maintaining the structural integrity of neuronal (brain) membranes and, in fact, monounsaturated fatty acids are structural components of neuronal membranes. We know that in the aging process, there is an increased demand of unsaturated fatty acids."

Previous studies have shown that higher levels of education can also protect against loss of memory and intellectual processing in later life. "In our study, the effects of education on the odds of cognitive impairment decreased exponentially with the increase of monounsaturated fatty acid energy intakes," said Capurso. "In other words, high education levels protect against age-related cognitive decline, but high monounsaturated fatty acid intakes strongly protect people with two risk factors for decline – aging and low education levels."

The study included 278 elderly people in southern Italy who participated in a larger study, the Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging. Study participants had no known diagnoses of neurological or psychiatric diseases with cognitive impairment and performed both neuropsychological evaluations and dietary assessments. Participants reported eating a typical Mediterranean diet with monounsaturated fatty acid energy intake equaling 17.6 percent of total calories, 85 percent of which was derived from olive oil.

Monounsaturated fatty acids can be found in numerous oils including olive, sesame, palm, corn, sunflower, soybean and cottonseed. Fatty acids can also be found in pork, beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, milk, butter, mackerel, herring and walnuts.

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