The research of some Italian scientists recently published in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents an intriguing idea: a calorie-restricted diet might prevent age-related memory loss. The positive results of this new research could be the key to healthy aging.
The scientists, led by Dr. Giovambattista Pani at the Institute of General Pathology, Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Rome, say that they have discovered the molecular process by which a strict diet may save the brain from the ravages of age. They found that in mice, a calorie-restricted diet triggered a protein molecule, CREB1, which activates a host of genes linked to longevity and good brain function.
"Our hope is to find a way to activate CREB1, for example through new drugs, so to keep the brain young without the need of a strict diet," said Dr. Pani.
Previous studies have shown that mice on calorie-restricted diets showed better cognitive abilities and memory, less aggression, and tended to avoid or delay Alzheimer's disease. But they have not known exactly why.
"CREB1 is known to regulate important brain functions as memory, learning and anxiety control, and its activity is reduced or physiologically compromised by aging," said the study’s authors.
Mice that were genetically altered to lack CREB1 showed none of the same memory benefits if they were on a low-calorie diet as mice that had the molecule, and showed the same brain disabilities as mice that were overfed. Therefore, CREB1 appears to be the critical factor in preserving cognitive ability.
According to Marc Gordon, chief of neurology at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York, the findings could explain on why some people who are obese in middle age experience cognitive problems later in life.
"Mid-life obesity has been associated with late-life dementia. However, the physiological basis for this association remains unclear," said Gordon, who was not part of the study.