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Eat less, remember more

A German study has found that eating less may help improve memory in older people.

A German study has found that eating less may help improve memory in older people.

The findings suggest that simply eating fewer calories could help fend off dementia, a benefit that has been shown in animal studies in the past.

Researchers divided 50 healthy elderly people into three groups. They ranged in weight from normal to slightly overweight.

The study took place over three months. The first group received 30 per cent calorie restriction; the second group received a higher amount of “good fats” found in olive oil and fish (but the same total fat intake); and the third group proceeded with a regular diet.

Memory performance was measured before and after the three-month period, using standardized tests.

The people who were on calorie restriction had a boost in memory of about 20 per cent, while those in the other two groups had no change.

“They remembered more words on average from a word list, with an average of about a fifth more,” Dr. Agnes Flöel, a neurologist at the University of Münster in Germany, told Metro in an email.

“Our study provides some first evidence on the impact of calorie restriction on memory in the elderly, but this study has to be followed up now by us and hopefully others,” added Flöel, who led the study.

The next step is to try to repeat the findings in a larger group of healthy elderly people and to try to figure out why calorie restriction can aid memory. Then, the group plans to study the use of calorie restriction in those with mild cognitive decline.

Memory loss is quite common. A recent survey found that 58 per cent of Canadian baby boomers (ages 40 to 60) have had short-term memory loss over the past year.

Much more serious is Alzheimer disease, which affects a small number of young people, and one in 20 Canadians over age 65 (one in four over age 85). The Alzheimer Society of Canada predicts that in the next 25 years, Alzheimer disease will more than double in the Canadian population.

Flöel warned that people who already suffer from Alzheimer disease might not be good candidates for calorie restriction, since they tend to lose weight anyway, and become emaciated. “To implement calorie restriction at this stage might actually be too late for any brain-beneficial effects, and might be detrimental to them as far as their general health status is concerned,” she reported.

 
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