Reusing oil may increase neurodegeneration, rat study says

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Reheating cooking oil may increase neurodegeneration, according to an animal study. Image credit: Guillermo de la Torre/Stocksy.
  • Consuming deep-fried oils has been linked to oxidative stress and inflammation, which are risk factors for neurodegenerative diseases and other chronic conditions.
  • A new study in rats suggests a potential connection between the long-term consumption of reheated cooking oils and increased neurodegeneration.
  • The gut-brain-liver axis appears crucial in maintaining neurological health, and consuming reheated oils may disrupt this balance.
  • Experts recommend diets rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, cautioning against the frequent consumption of fried foods.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2024 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, Alzheimer’s now affects nearly 7 million adults age 65 and older in the United States.

Amid this rising neurodegenerative health crisis, a recent rat study has highlighted a potential link between long-term consumption of reused deep-fried oil and increased neurodegeneration.

The study abstract was presented at Discover BMB 2024, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s annual meeting, and will be published in a virtual supplement to the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The new study found that rats fed diets with reheated cooking oils exhibited significantly higher levels of neurodegeneration compared to rats consuming a standard diet.

The research suggests that reheated oil may increase neurodegeneration by disrupting the liver-gut-brain axis, which is crucial for maintaining physiological balance and has been linked to neurological disorders.

Deep frying is a prevalent cooking method globally, often used in fast-food restaurants, street vendors, and home cooking.

Studies have associated deep-fried food consumption with cardiometabolic conditions and certain cancers. However, few have examined the long-term effects of consuming reheated cooking oils on polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) metabolism and disease development.

Dr. Kathiresan Shanmugam, PhD, an associate professor at the Central University of Tamil Nadu in Thiruvarur, India, led the research team to explore this issue.

The study team organized female rats into five groups, fed a normal diet (control group) or a normal diet supplemented with unheated sesame oil, unheated sunflower oil, reheated sesame oil, or reheated sunflower oil daily for a period of 30 days.

This approach was designed to mimic the conditions of consuming reused deep frying oil.

Compared with their counterparts on different diet regimens, rats fed diets with reheated oils exhibited heightened oxidative stress and inflammation in liver tissues.

Additionally, significant colonic damage was observed in these rats, which led to altered levels of Health">endotoxins and Health">lipopolysaccharides, indicating the presence of toxins produced by specific bacterial strains.

In secondary experiments, monosodium glutamate (MSG) was used to promote neurotoxicity in offspring. The offspring fed diets including reheated oils showed greater susceptibility to neuronal damage than the control group fed no oils or diets with unheated oils.

In a press release, Shanmugam explained:

“As a result, liver lipid metabolism was significantly altered, and the transport of the important brain omega-3 fatty acid DHA was decreased. This, in turn, resulted in neurodegeneration, which was seen in the brain histology of the rats consuming the reheated oil as well as their offspring.”

The study revealed that diets inclusive of reheated oils led to escalated levels of cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, AST and ALT, and inflammatory markers, alongside considerable damage to liver and colon structures, pointing to potential cardiometabolic and organ harm.

Consumption of reheated oils also resulted in specific brain damage, especially in areas crucial for regeneration, highlighting the neurological risk of reheated oil consumption.

In contrast, rats fed unheated oils showed better markers for brain health compared to rats in reheated oil groups.

Heating oils to high temperatures significantly alters their natural chemical structure, reducing their beneficial antioxidants and forming harmful compounds such as trans fats, acrylamide, and aldehydes.

Reheating oils, especially for deep-frying, further exacerbates this process as the oil becomes increasingly unstable, losing health benefits and generating more toxins with each use.

Alyssa Simpson, registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition Resolution, who was not involved with the study, explained that repeated heating causes oils to break down, “resulting in changes in fatty acid composition, and increased levels of lipid oxidation products such as reactive oxygen species (ROS).”

An imbalance in ROS and biological antioxidants can trigger oxidative stress in the brain, which, according to Simpson, potentially damages neurons and heightens the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

Additionally, Simpson emphasized the presence of oxidized fats and advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in reheated frying oils, which are linked to chronic diseases, including neurodegenerative conditions.

Dr. Alexandra Filingeri, a registered dietitian and doctor of clinical nutrition who was not involved with the study, agreed, and clarified the negative effects of reheating cooking oil on its nutritional content.

“Repeat exposure of heat to cooking oil negatively impacts fatty acid composition decreasing health promoting polyunsaturated fats and increasing trans isomers and saturated fatty acids,” she shared with Medical News Today.

While more research is needed, reheated oils have been linked to increased levels of cholesterol and inflammation, which are risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases and neurodegenerative disorders.

The liver, which filters and detoxifies substances in our bodies, may be particularly vulnerable to damage from reheated oils.

According to Simpson, “[r]epeated intake of oils subjected to high temperatures could disrupt liver lipid metabolism,” potentially leading to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and accelerating liver diseases due to ROS-induced oxidative stress.

Additionally, Simpson and Filingeri voiced concerns about oxidized fats affecting gut microbiota and intestinal permeability, potentially leading to dysbiosis, inflammation, and gut barrier dysfunction.

Filingeri highlighted that maintaining a Healthy gut microbiome is essential for liver Health, as an imbalance could result in harmful bacteria penetrating the liver via increased intestinal permeability, thus causing oxidative stress and inflammation.

This disruption affects the liver-gut-brain axis, critical for neurological Health through its metabolic, immune, and hormonal communication pathways, potentially leading to Health">neuroinflammatory conditions and neurological disorders, according to Simpson.

Furthermore, Simpson elaborated that disturbances in the metabolism of specific lipids could disrupt brain cell communication and function, potentially damaging neurons.

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