Eating less may save your brain


Skip that second helping of turkey. Forget the mashed potatoes and gravy, and don't even think about the cheesecake.

Not to spare your waste line -- but to save your brain.

University of Kentucky researchers reported this past week the first evidence suggesting that lowering daily caloric intake might provide a hedge against several age- related brain disorders, including Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists proved years ago that reducing food intake increases life span in rats and mice, although such benefits haven't yet been demonstrated in larger animals. Previous studies also have shown that restricting calories can reduce risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

But the University of Kentucky report is the first to suggest that such reductions also might shield the brain against Alzheimer's.

During two years of tests, members of the research team from UK's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging found that when they restricted the food intake of test rats, the rats' brains were able to withstand toxins that mimic the ravages of Alzheimer's, Huntington's disease and Parkinson's disease. Rats that were allowed to eat all they wanted had much less resistance to the brain toxins.

The findings appear in the January issue of Annals of Neurology, a medical research journal.

UK neurobiologist Mark Mattson, the research team leader, says that while it isn't yet clear whether humans could get similar benefits from eating less, cutting back couldn't hurt.

"So that people can relate to it, most Americans today eat between 2,500 and 3,000 calories a day," Mattson said. "The food restriction in our study roughly would be the equivalent of cutting back to 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day. You wouldn't be starving."

Pub Date: 01/10/99

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