Dietary Fat and the Brain

Over the last six months I’ve come to believe that animal fat improves my sleep. Because sleep is controlled by the brain, this suggests animal fat may also improve other measures of brain function, just as omega-3 turned out to improve brain function in a wide range of ways. I didn’t know about a recent experiment done with airplane pilots that supports that idea. This was the design:

A total of 45 pilots (mean age, 20.8 years; 87% male) from the [University of North Dakota] commercial-aviation program were enrolled in this 14-week repeated-measures crossover trial.

During the first week, participants were randomized to receive 1 of 4 diets (3 full meals and 2 snacks) for 4 days: a diet high in carbohydrates, a diet high in fat, a diet high in protein, or a control diet. After a 2-week “phase-out” period, all pilots then randomly received a different study diet. This process was repeated until all pilots had received all 4 diets.

I haven’t been able to find out much about the high-fat diet. Here are some of the results:

The response time on the Sternberg test of short-term memory was significantly faster for participants who ate the high-fat diet (P < .05) than for those who ate the protein and control diets, especially at higher memory loads.

With sleep, however, the high-carb diet produced the best sleep.

Here is the abstract.

Thanks to Paul Sas.

3 Replies to “Dietary Fat and the Brain”

  1. I’ve got 2 pointers: ketones and BDNF.

    Calorie restriction seems to raise your BDNF. BDNF (important for memory) is lowered by sugar, although some researchers indicate it is also lowered by high fat (tests done with high-sugar+high-fat intake), but in the same articles indicate that enough omega-3 fats ARE important…

    On a low-carb diet your body switches from the standard glucose-burning, to fat burning (ketosis). Research shows that the heart and brain work 25% more efficiently in ketosis than on glucose burning. Some indicate that a more efficient brain might need a shorter REM sleep, and thus a shorter total sleep time.

    I think Micheal Eades wrote an article on sleep and ketosis, and indicated that some people have sleep problems when doing a low-carb diet, and recommends drinking a cup of tea with sugar just before going to sleep. Your body and brain switches back to (the less efficiently?) glucose burning, and makes it easier to fall asleep. I can’t find the article anymore…

    I’m combining SLD with low-carb myself, and it’s great. No/low sugar/carbohydrates when possible, coconutoil in the morning, flaxoil in the evening. Some extra vitamins and fishoil, especially during the weightloss period.

    some links:
    BDNF: http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/intermittent-fasting/fast-way-to-better-health/
    Ketosis and your brain: http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/ketones-and-ketosis/metabolism-and-ketosis/
    BDNF and sugar:
    http://stanford.wellsphere.com/healthy-eating-article/what-sugar-does-to-your-brain/490861
    BDNF and sleep:
    http://www.sleepwarrior.com/use-ketosis-to-train-your-brain-to-sleep-less

    Kind regards,
    Eric

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