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High-fat diet affects physical and memory abilities

Rats fed a high-fat diet show a stark reduction in their physical endurance and a decline in their cognitive ability after just nine days, a new study has shown.

The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in the FASEB Journal, may have implications not only for those eating lots of high-fat foods, but also athletes looking for the optimal diet for training and patients with metabolic disorders.

"We found that rats, when switched to a high-fat diet from their standard low-fat feed, showed a surprisingly quick reduction in their physical performance," says Dr Andrew Murray, who led the work while at Oxford University and is currently at the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge. "After just nine days, they were only able to run 50 per cent as far on a treadmill as those that remained on the low-fat feed."

The rats on the high-fat diet were also making mistakes sooner in the maze task, suggesting that their cognitive abilities were also being affected by their diet. The number of correct decisions before making a mistake dropped from over six to an average of 5 to 5.5.

While this research has been done in rats, the Oxford team and Andrew Murray's new group in Cambridge are now carrying out similar studies in humans, looking at the effect of a short term high-fat diet on exercise and cognitive ability.

The results will be important not only in informing athletes of the best diets to help their training routine, but also in developing ideal diets for patients with metabolic disorders such as diabetes, insulin resistance or obesity. People with such conditions can have high levels of fat in the blood and show poor exercise tolerance, some cognitive decline, and can even develop dementia over time.

"In little more than a week, a change in diet appears to have made the rats' hearts much less efficient," says Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, who funded the research. "We look forward to the results of the equivalent studies in human volunteers, which should tell us more about the short-term effects of high-fat foods on our hearts. We already know that to protect our heart health in the long-term, we should cut down on foods high in saturated fat."

For the full University of Cambridge news article please click here.

Posted on 15/08/2009

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