suggests a study, may be the secret to remembering important things
-- like where you put your keys or how to navigate one-way streets
to a favorite restaurant.
The link between eating fat and retaining memories was once a survival
tool: when our ancestors found a source of nourishing food, it was
helpful to remember how to get back for more. Research published
in a May 2009 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences hints at the science behind the connection. When digesting
fats that contain oleic acid -- a "good" monounsaturated
fatty acid found in olive oil, fish, nuts and soybeans -- the small
intestine produces a molecule called oleoylethanolamide (OEA). OEA
binds to a receptor in the gut, which sends signals to the brain.*
One of these signals ends up in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus,
where it conveys a satisfying sense of fullness. A second message,
according to the study, winds up in the amygdala, the almond-shaped
center of the brain where emotionally charged memories are cemented
into long-term memories (think: your wedding or where you were on
September 11, 2001).
Daniele Piomelli, Ph.D., Pharm.D., and his colleagues at the University
of California, Irvine, injected rats with OEA just after the animals
had learned to master two challenges-one spatial, one emotional.
The rodents had to find a submerged platform in cloudy water and
then avoid a room where they were shocked. They were twice as likely
to remember both solutions 48 hours after receiving OEA.
"A foraging animal needs to remember not just that it's eating
a nice avocado in the forest," says Piomelli. "It needs
to remember to make a right or left turn at the third branch, not
the fourth," to find it again.
Piomelli's preliminary results suggest that OEA might help people
form these same sorts of memories, but more research is needed to
say for sure. The relationship is complex, and OEA is far from the
only piece of the puzzle, says Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, M.D., an
endocrinologist at Harvard Medical School. "OEA probably plays
a role, but it's small."
Still, with a newly clarified picture of how OEA works, scientists
hope to develop drugs that might improve memory and treat brain
disorders, such as Alzheimer's.
In the meantime, it can't hurt to eat nuts, salmon, vegetable oils
and other sources of healthy fats. They're good for you and they
might help you to remember, especially if you eat them right before
an experience you don't want to forget. Fat starts being absorbed-and
OEA is at its peak-10 to 20 minutes after a meal. It's then, says
Piomelli, that your gut and brain are primed to strengthen memories."
about it. You grew your magnificent brain, perhaps the most
complicated thing in the world. And you grew it without even thinking
about it. A supremely intelligent Life Force of unknown origin created
and sustains this wondrous miracle of life. It's what we refer to