According to a study by AARP,1 93 percent of Americans are concerned with their brain health, but very few understood some of the natural strategies they could use to improve it. Contrary to popular belief, your brain function and cognitive performance do not have to decline with age. There are steps you can take that influence your memory, processing, executive functions and more.
Even if you are already in your "golden years," simple changes may prompt brain health for the better. For instance, where once it was believed that neurons were only generated early in life, scientists now know that neurogenesis (generation of new neurons) continues into adulthood.2 Exactly what influences the rate of new neuron growth is still being explored, as are other factors that play a role in brain health.
Recent research, for instance, has uncovered damage canola oil consumption triggers in your brain and the effect this may have on your memory and learning ability.3 The study, published in the journal Nature, also found the consumption of canola oil increased weight gain.
Canola Oil Negatively Affects Brain Health and Weight Management
The study was led by researcher Dr. Domenico Praticò from Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Praticò commented to the Los Angeles Times that canola oil is perceived by many to be healthy — a widespread misconception:4
"Canola oil is appealing because it is less expensive than other vegetable oils, and it is advertised as being healthy. Very few studies, however, have examined that claim, especially in terms of the brain."
Researchers used an animal model to evaluate the effect canola oil has on the brains of mice genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer’s disease.5 Canola oil developed a reputation of being healthy when doctors began warning people to reduce their saturated fat intake and consume vegetable oils instead. Canola has the lowest percentage of saturated fat of all commonly used vegetable oils and is relatively inexpensive, but is actually one of the worst oils for your health.
Canola oil is often used in homes and restaurants for baking, sautéing, frying and other forms of cooking, with consumers being deceived into believing it’s better for them than saturated fats. The mice were split into two groups; one group was fed the usual chow and the second group was fed chow with the human equivalent of 2 teaspoons of canola oil per day.
At the end of the experimental six months, researchers observed that the mice eating chow laced with canola oil were significantly heavier than the mice that did not eat canola oil. Additionally, the mice who had eaten canola oil demonstrated significant declines in working memory together with a decreased level of post-synaptic density protein-94, a marker of synaptic integrity. The researchers found canola oil had a negative effect on health and concluded:6
"Taken together, our findings do not support a beneficial effect of chronic canola oil consumption on two important aspects of AD [Alzheimer’s disease] pathophysiology which includes memory impairments as well as synaptic integrity."
Your Brain Needs Healthy Fats
The same researchers used a similar model to evaluate the effects of olive oil on the brain function of mice.7 In that study,8,9 neither group was heavier than the other, and the mice fed chow enriched with extra-virgin olive oil performed significantly better on testing that evaluated the animals’ working memory, spatial memory and ability to learn.
The brain tissue of these mice, genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer's disease as they age like the mice in the featured study, also revealed dramatic differences. The mice fed olive oil demonstrated preserved synaptic integrity and an increase in nerve cell autophagy, ultimately responsible for a reduction in amyloid plaques common in the brain of those with Alzheimer's disease.10
Healthy fat is an essential component of the structure of your brain, which is composed of nearly 60 percent fat.11 It should come as no surprise that your brain needs quality fat to function optimally. Although your brain is a small part of your complete bodyweight, it uses 20 percent of your metabolic energy. Essential fatty acids are required but cannot be synthesized in your body, and so must come from dietary sources.
Most people get well over what is needed of omega-6 fats, which are found in most vegetable oils, and not nearly enough omega-3 fats. One omega-3 fat, DHA, has been linked with the growth of your retina and visual cortex during development,12 visual acuity and reduction in depression. Research has found those suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have lower levels of DHA, and DHA may play a role in neuroprotection.
Unlike the highly damaged fats in vegetable oil, saturated fat is the optimal “clean” fuel for your brain and is one of the main components of brain cells. As such, it’s excellent for brain health, with one study demonstrating that those who ate more saturated fat reduced their risk of developing dementia while those who favored carbohydrates had a significantly increased risk.13
To maintain optimal brain function, you need high-quality, undamaged omega-3s and omega-6 along with antioxidants to protect them from oxidation — not processed vegetable oils like canola oil. In summary, processed vegetable oils are bad for your brain health for a number of reasons, including the following:
• They are loaded with damaged omega-6 fatty acids without protective antioxidants
• They strip your liver of glutathione, which produces antioxidant enzymes, which further lowers your antioxidant defenses
• Most vegetable oils are made with genetically engineered (GE) crops designed to resist herbicides like glyphosate. As such, they may be more contaminated with glyphosate than non-GE crops, and glyphosate has been shown to disrupt the tight junctions in your gut and increase penetration of foreign invaders, especially heated proteins, which can cause allergies