Memory, learning ability, worsened by canola oil, says study



Made of genetically modified rapeseed, a plant in the mustard family, canola oil has often been thought of as a healthier choice for cooking because it's low in saturated fat and has been shown to reduce cholesterol when compared to diets with higher saturated fat contents.

"Canola oil is appealing because it is less expensive than other vegetable oils, and it is advertised as being healthy", explained Dr. Domenico Praticò, professor in the Departments of Pharmacology and Microbiology and Director of the Alzheimer's Center at the university's school of medicine, as well as senior investigator on the study.

"Very few studies, however, have examined that claim, especially in terms of the brain", said Pratico. The research also suggested that olive oil reduced the formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, both of which are connected to the disease.

The researchers divided the mice into two groups at six months of age, before the animals developed signs of Alzheimer's disease. One group was fed a normal diet for six months, while the other was fed a diet supplemented with the equivalent of about two tablespoons of canola oil each day.

When the animals were assessed at a year old, the team noticed one stark difference: mice who consumed canola oil were heavier than their control counterparts. The canola-oil group also had gained a fair bit more weight than their non-oil-eating studymates. As synapses - the space between neurons where chemical signals are transmitted - are key to memory functions, the findings fit with the decreased ability the mice demonstrated in running the maze.

Pratico and Lauretti used the same method for another study, published in June, that found consuming extra-virgin olive oil protected memory and learning ability from Alzheimer's disease in mice.

His team now plans to further its studies into canola oil consumption and also research whether canola oil's effect on the brain is limited to Alzheimer's disease.

"Even though canola oil is a vegetable oil, we need to be careful before we say that it is healthy", Praticò said.

The next step for the researchers is to conduct studies over a shorter period of time to see just how quickly Alzheimer's-disease-affected brains begin showing the damage.

For their latest work, they wanted to determine whether canola oil is similarly beneficial for the brain.

Unfortunately, we still don't know what causes Alzheimer's disease, we only know that it is characterized by extreme memory loss and learning difficulties in sufferers.

"There is a chance that the consumption of canola oil could also affect the onset and course of other neurodegenerative diseases or other forms of dementia", Praticò said.

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