The new data, presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2014, investigated whether the levels of trans fat being consumed by people has an effect on memory after previous research suggested that other food can have significant effects on memory.
"Foods have different effects on oxidative stress and cell energy," explained Professor Beatrice Golomb from the University of California-San Diego, who led the research.
“In a previous study, we found chocolate, which is rich in antioxidants and positively impacts cell energy, is linked to better word memory in young to middle-aged adults. 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."
The research analysed data from approximately 1,000 healthy men – finding that those who consumed the most trans-fat showed notably worse performance on a word memory test.
Golomb and her colleagues studied adults who had not been diagnosed with heart disease, including men aged 20 or older and postmenopausal women.
Participants completed a dietary questionnaire, from which the researchers estimated participants' trans-fat consumption. To assess memory, they then presented the participants with a series of 104 cards showing words. Participants had to state whether each word was new or a word duplicated from a prior card.
Among men under the age of 45, those who ate more trans-fat showed notably worse performance on the word memory test, said the team – adding that the strength of the association remained even after taking into consideration things like age, education, ethnicity and depression.
Indeed, each additional gram a day of trans-fat consumed was associated with an estimated 0.76 fewer words correctly recalled.
For those eating the highest amounts of trans-fat, this translated to an estimated 11 fewer words remembered (more than a 10% reduction), compared to adults who ate the least trans-fat.
"Trans fats were most strongly linked to worse memory, in young and middle-aged men, during their working and career-building years," said Golomb.
"From a health standpoint, trans fat consumption has been linked to higher body weight, more aggression and heart disease,” she added. “As I tell patients, while trans fats increase the shelf life of foods, they reduce the shelf life of people."
Golomb noted that further research in younger women is needed to determine whether the effects extend to this group.
Source: American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2014
“Trans Fat Consumption is Adversely Linked to Memory in Working-Age Adults”
Authors: Beatrice Golomb, Alexis Bui