That danish will go straight to your brain

pastryDiabetics beware of memory slumps

A study led by Baycrest scientists revealed that unhealthy meals are not only bad for the waistline, but older adults with type 2 diabetes may experience memory declines immediately after consumption.

The good news is that this can be offset by taking antioxidant vitamins with the meal. This study, published in the June 2008 issue of Nutrition Research, suggests that taking high doses of antioxidant vitamins C and E with the meal may help minimize those memory slumps.

“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, a medical student who conducted the research as a University of Toronto pathobiology undergraduate in the Kunin-Lunenfeld Applied Research Unit (KLARU) at Baycrest. “We’ve shown that antioxidant vitamins can minimize oxidative stress from the meal and reduce those immediate memory deficits.”

In the study, 16 adults (aged 50 years and older) with type 2 diabetes attended three weekly sessions that involved consuming a different test meal. One meal consisted of high fat products – a danish pastry, cheddar cheese and yogurt with added whipped cream; the second meal consisted of only water consumption; and the third test meal was the high-fat meal plus high doses of vitamins C (1000 mg) and E (800 IU) tablets.

Fifteen minutes after starting meal ingestion, participants completed a series of neuropsychological tests lasting 90 minutes that measured their recall abilities for words they had heard and paragraph information they had read. These cognitive skills are associated with the brain’s memory centre – the hippocampus.

Participants who ate the high fat meal without vitamin supplements showed significantly more forgetfulness of words and paragraph information in immediate and time delay recall tests, compared to those who had just water or the meal with antioxidant vitamins. Those on water meal and meal with vitamins showed similar levels in cognitive performance.

KLARU senior scientist Dr. Carol Greenwood, senior author of the study and a nationally recognized expert in how diet impacts brain function, cautioned that relying on antioxidant vitamins at meal time is not a quick fix. “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,” said Dr. Greenwood.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a low fat diet rich in antioxidants, and staying mentally active and socially engaged in a variety of activities, is the best medicine for optimizing cognitive health during the lifespan, she added.

Dr. Greenwood and Chui emphasize that their findings require further replication in larger studies with more participants. The study was funded by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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