Diet-Induced Cognitive Deficits: The Role of Fat and Sugar, Potential Mechanisms and Nutritional Interventions

Nutrients. 2015 Aug 12;7(8):6719-38. doi: 10.3390/nu7085307.


It is of vital importance to understand how the foods which are making us fat also act to impair cognition. In this review, we compare the effects of acute and chronic exposure to high-energy diets on cognition and examine the relative contributions of fat (saturated and polyunsaturated) and sugar to these deficits. Hippocampal-dependent memory appears to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of high-energy diets and these deficits can occur rapidly and prior to weight gain. More chronic diet exposure seems necessary however to impair other sorts of memory. Many potential mechanisms have been proposed to underlie diet-induced cognitive decline and we will focus on inflammation and the neurotrophic factor, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Finally, given supplementation of diets with omega-3 and curcumin has been shown to have positive effects on cognitive function in healthy ageing humans and in disease states, we will discuss how these nutritional interventions may attenuate diet-induced cognitive decline. We hope this approach will provide important insights into the causes of diet-induced cognitive deficits, and inform the development of novel therapeutics to prevent or ameliorate such memory impairments.

Keywords: BDNF; curcumin; diet; fat; hippocampus; inflammation; intervention; memory; neurogenesis; omega-3; sugar.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Carbohydrates / administration & dosage
  • Carbohydrates / adverse effects*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Cognition*
  • Curcumin / pharmacology
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / physiopathology


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • BDNF protein, human
  • Curcumin