Memory Maximizers: Trans Fats & Memory; Doodling Sharpens Memory & Focus

Here's the latest research to help you keep your brain sharp.

Avoid Trans Fats to Protect Your Memory

If you want to keep your memory fit and agile, you’d do best to shun foods with trans fats. That’s the conclusion suggested by a new study involving about 1,000 healthy men ages 20 and older that linked consumption of the artery-clogging fats found in many junk foods to significant decreases in memory ability. According to a paper presented Nov. 18, 2014 at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, study participants who reported eating a diet high in fast foods, processed foods, commercial baked goods, margarine, and other sources of trans fats did considerably worse on a word memory test than did participants whose diets included little or none of the unhealthy fats, even after taking other factors such as age and educational level into account. The researchers found that for each added gram of trans fats a participant consumed daily, the individual recalled 0.76 fewer words in the 104-word memory test. “For people at the higher end of consumption, that would translate to 11 or 12 fewer words correctly re-called,” said the study’s lead author. That score is notably lower than the 86-word average re-call. Participants who consumed the most trans fats did about 10 percent worse overall than those who ate none. The researchers believe that trans fats impair memory by promoting oxidative stress that damages or kills cells in the hippocampus, an important memory area of the brain, and also act to deplete the brain cells of energy they require to function properly.

The findings point to the importance of consuming a nutritious diet with minimal amounts of unhealthy trans fat. To lower your trans fat intake, read the labels on food packaging and avoid foods that contain trans fats, resist the temptation to snack on fast foods and junk foods, and substitute healthier fats, such as olive and canola oils, for the trans fats in your diet.

Doodling Sharpens Memory and Focus

Doodling while you think can boost your concentration and ability to remember many types of information, research suggests. Spontaneously filling a blank paper with marks, scribbles, tracing, designs, and drawings appears to stimulate the brain, perhaps by helping keep regions of the brain’s cerebral cortex active when outside stimuli are reduced. A study published in 2009 in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology found that participants who doodled while listening to a researcher reading a list of people’s names were able to recall 29 percent more names in a surprise quiz later on than were participants who were not encouraged to doodle. However, doodling doesn’t seem to improve the ability to remember visual information, according to one study published by the University of British Columbia in 2012. That research found that volunteers who doodled while trying to view and remember visual images had difficulty recalling the images later on, possibly because their visual-processing ability had been split between two visual tasks that competed to use the same cognitive pathways.

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