While restricting calories will certainly help you lose weight, research already suggests that it also may slow aging, prolong life, and even cut the effects of certain diseases. But a new study takes it further by probing into whether or not it can delay nerve cell loss in the brain.
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), led by Johannes Gräff, tested their theory on lab mice engineered to experience rapid neurodegeneration.
Researchers cut the mice’s calorie intake by 30 percent, while another group remained on a normal diet.
Three months later, the mice were tested for learning and memory skills. The mice who ate a normal diet showed significant decline in both cognitive areas, but the calorie-restricted mice showed none.
There is also evidence that caloric restriction activates an enzyme called Sirtuin 1 (SIRT1), which studies suggest offers some protection against age-associated impairments in the brain. Curious if they could recreate the benefits of caloric restriction without changing the animals’ diets, the scientists gave a separate group of mice a drug that activates SIRT1.
Similar to what the researchers found in the mice exposed to reduced-calorie diets, the mice that received the drug had less cell loss and better cellular connectivity than mice who didn't. Plus, the mice that received the drug treatment performed as well as normal mice in learning and memory tests.
“There has been great interest in finding compounds that mimic the benefits of caloric restriction that could be used to delay the onset of age-associated problems and/or diseases,” said Dr. Luigi Puglielli, who studies aging at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and was not involved in this study.
“If proven safe for humans, this study suggests such a drug could be used as a preventive tool to delay the onset of neurodegeneration associated with several diseases that affect the aging brain,” he added.
The study was published online May 22 in The Journal of Neuroscience.