Eating Fatty Food Days Before Surgery May Impair Memory: Study Finds

by Ella

Many individuals who have undergone surgery can relate to the grogginess experienced upon waking from anesthesia. While this sensation typically dissipates over time, some individuals may encounter a more profound decline in brain function post-operation, lasting weeks to months.

A recent animal study suggests that consuming fatty foods in the days leading up to surgery could exacerbate the inflammatory processes associated with cognitive decline, potentially prolonging memory difficulties. Such cognitive decline is often linked to an increased risk of dementia in humans.


Previous research has indicated that the consumption of fatty foods alone can expedite cognitive decline, typically associated with aging, by triggering inflammation. Even occasional indulgences in sugary or fatty foods have been shown to impact brain function, as demonstrated in other animal studies.


In a new study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University, rats fed fatty foods for just three days before undergoing surgery displayed persistent signs of memory deficits lasting up to two weeks. This was accompanied by a surge of inflammation in the brain, which persisted for three weeks.


Behavioral neuroscientist Ruth Barrientos of Ohio State University notes, “These data suggest that these multiple insults have a compounding effect.” She explains, “The high-fat diet alone might increase inflammation in the brain just a little bit, but then you have surgery that does the same thing, and when put together in a short amount of time, you get a synergistic response that can set things in motion toward a longer-term memory issue.”


To arrive at these findings, the research team fed both young and old rats a high-fat or standard diet for three days before undergoing a procedure resembling exploratory abdominal surgery. Two weeks later, all animals underwent a series of memory tests.

The memory impairments observed in both young and older rats fed high-fat diets persisted for at least two weeks post-surgery – a duration longer than previously seen in rodents after just three days, not weeks, of consuming unhealthy food.

Importantly, these effects were not attributed to anesthesia, as other animals fed a fatty diet but spared any anesthetic or surgery demonstrated similar memory deficits solely from unhealthy food consumption.

Further research is necessary to determine the duration of these cognitive effects and how post-operative opioid painkillers, such as morphine, may prolong these effects.

On a positive note, the researchers found that one month of DHA omega-3 fatty acid supplements mitigated the post-surgery inflammatory response and prevented associated memory problems in both young and older rats.

Barrientos remarks, “DHA was really effective at preventing these changes,” suggesting its potential as a pretreatment, particularly for individuals anticipating surgery and consuming an unhealthy diet.

However, it remains uncertain how these findings from animal studies would translate to humans, especially obese surgical patients, rather than occasional unhealthy eaters.

Moreover, it’s worth noting that the study exclusively utilized male rats, despite other research indicating potential differences in response to general anesthetics between men and women.



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