Consuming excess trans fats has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and obesity, but a new study reveals they also can impact men’s memory.
In a study of 1,000 healthy people— 700 of them men aged 20 and over— researchers found that working-age men who consumed the most trans fats performed worse in memory tests, Medical News Today reported. The other 300 participants were postmenopausal women, but the study authors focused on men because their group represented all adult ages.
"Trans fats were most strongly linked to worse memory in young and middle-aged men during their working and career-building years,” said lead author Beatrice A. Golomb, professor of medicine at the University of California-San Diego. “While trans fats increase the shelf life of foods, they reduce the shelf life of people.”
The researchers considered men younger than 45 as working-age.
In the study, participants detailed their dietary habits in questionnaires, and researchers estimated how much trans fat they consumed. Next, the participants underwent memory tests. They were shown a series of over 100 cards with words, and had to recall if they’d seen the word before during the test.
Researchers found that each extra gram of trans fat consumed per day was linked to an estimated .76 fewer words recalled. Those participants who ate the most trans fats recalled 11 fewer words than the group that ate the least amount of trans fats.
Researchers suspect that trans fats’ effect on oxidative stress and cell energy is the main reason for their negative impact on memory. Antioxidant-rich foods, such as chocolate, have been linked to stronger word memory in young to middle-aged adults, according to Medical News Today.
“In this study, we looked at whether trans fats— which are pro-oxidant and linked adversely to cell energy— might show the opposite effect, and they did,” Golomb said.
According to Medical News Today, oxidative stress is associated with the development of heart disease and cancer.
Trans fats are found in fast foods, packaged snacks, coffee creams and the like. Food manufacturers use them to help preserve their processed products. Trans fats are produced when liquid oils are converted into solid fats.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) runs an ongoing campaign to discourage the use of trans fats in the U.S. food supply.
Golomb's preliminary results were presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Chicago.