Trans Fat Robs Memory and Makes You Irritable

Margarine, snack foods, some frozen items, microwave popcorn, crackers, and fast foods are among the common items that frequently contain trans fat, a fat that is not only bad for your heart but for your brain as well. A new study recently presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Chicago pointed out that trans fat may rob you of your memory, at least if you are male. If that finding doesn’t make you irritable, the results of another earlier study might.

When it comes to the memory study, these results don’t mean women are immune to this apparent negative effect of trans fat. However, the study population was limited to 1,000 healthy men younger than 45 years old, so they are our point of reference. It also should be noted that these results are preliminary and have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

A team of University of California San Francisco researchers gathered dietary information regarding trans fat from each of the men and tested them using a word recall test. The authors reported that on average:
  • For each additional gram of trans fat a man consumed daily, he was able to recall 0.76 fewer words.
  • For men who consumed about 15 grams daily, the result was about a 10 percent decline in memory

Trans fat is found in anti-foods, according to Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, the study’s lead researcher, which are those that have an adverse effect on health. The investigators believe the reason trans fat has a negative impact on memory is that it reduces blood flow to critical parts of the brain.

It also turns out that trans fat has yet another negative: it may make you irritable and aggressive. Golomb and her team discovered in an earlier study that in both men and women, higher intake of trans fat was associated with greater irritability and aggression.

Insidious trans fats

I have already named some sources of trans fat, but these memory-robbing substances can lurk in countless numbers of items on grocery shelves. One of the best ways to avoid these fats is to read labels carefully. If you see the words margarine, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, or shortening, then trans fat is present.

It’s important to note that the type of trans fat I have been talking about is artificial and the form that makes up the majority of this fat that people consume. Natural trans fat is found in the digestive systems of cows and other ruminant animals, but intake of this form makes up only a small percentage of the diet.

Read more about natural trans fat

Although labeling of trans fat in foods has been mandatory in the United States since January 2006, there is a big loophole. Food manufacturers are not required to list trans fat on the nutrition label if the food contains up to 0.5 gram per serving. In fact, they can legally call the food “trans-fat free” if each serving contains 0.49 grams.

The trick here is serving size plus ingredients. If a serving size is one cookie and you eat six of a brand that has up to 0.49 grams per cookie, you could easily consume nearly 3 grams of trans fat if there is trans fat anywhere on the ingredient label.

Read more about the trans fat loophole

This is nearly twice the recommended maximum of 1.11 grams daily from processed foods. In fact, research has shown that increasing your intake of trans fat from 0.9 percent to 2.1 percent (from 2 to 4.67 grams) per day will increase your risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent.

The bottom line is that trans fat is detrimental for your cardiovascular system, and now it seems that it can cause memory loss—at least in men—and make you irritable. Three strikes and you’re out, trans fat!

[Editor's Note: If you want to eliminate unhealthy ingredients and chemical additives from your diet for good, click here to sign up for a Naturally Savvy Get Healthy Challenge.]

Image: Kerry J

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By Deborah Mitchell| December 01, 2014
Categories:  Eat

About the Author

Deborah Mitchell

Deborah Mitchell

Deborah is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. Currently she lives in Tucson, Arizona. Visit her at

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