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Counting Calories May Help Your Brain

Previous studies have found that lowering the caloric intake of a variety of species -- worms, yeast, rats and fish -- extends their lifespan. Preliminary evidence has shown calorie restriction for the long-term may have the same effect on humans too.

A recent study on mice has found severe calorie restriction prevents certain aging-related changes in the brain, including the accumulation of free radicals and impairments in coordination and strength. The bad news: These dietary changes did not seem to prevent mice from developing some cognitive deficits associated with age, such as declines in memory.

Though calorie restriction helps animals live longer and resist some effects of aging, scientists still do not know why. The scientists who worked on this study theorized a restrictive diet, like antioxidants, protects the brain from free radical damage.

However, calorie restriction had almost no effect on several drills used to measure pure cognitive performance on old and young mice. In one test of spatial learning and memory, mice are placed in a pool of opaque water and have to learn to find a submerged platform in order to climb out of the pool. Old mice, regardless of their diet, performed much worse than young mice on this task when they were required to learn different consecutive platform locations.

What does this mean for you? When you're considering cutting back, consider minimizing your intake of calories and harmful substances while maximizing your intake of nutrients.

Science Blog October 25, 2004

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