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Scientists Discover Diet Switch to Keep Brains Young

Tim Boyer's picture
Aging Brain and Diet Linked

Researchers have discovered that an important gene associated with longevity is switched on under a particular diet (nutritional conditions) that not only keeps a brain young, but is also associated with decreased incidences of diabetes and obesity as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The goal of the researchers is to develop a pill that will activate the genetic switch without the need for special dietary conditions to help people keep their brains young.

Multiple studies have shown that restricting the normal amount of calories consumed in several animal species leads to a longer and healthier life with relatively “young brains.” Such caloric restriction involves eating up to, but no more than, 70 percent of each meal. In mice, caloric restriction results in a decrease in obesity and diabetes with an increase in cognitive performance. Scientists are able to show this through simple tests where mice have to perform tasks that require mental processing.

Overeating, on the other hand, leads to obesity and the increased likelihood of developing diabetes. Moreover, overeating is believed to causing premature aging of the brain meaning that a brain becomes less young and is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

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In a paper just released in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Italian researchers at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Rome have found that when mice are on a calorie restricted diet that a molecule called CREB1 is switched on in the brain. Previous studies have demonstrated an association between CREB1 expression and the activation of longevity genes and genes involved in brain function.

Dr. Giovambattista Pani, researcher at the Institute of General Pathology, Faculty of Medicine at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Rome, states that, "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…our findings identify for the first time an important mediator of the effects of diet on the brain," says Dr. Pani.

Dr. Pani and his colleagues believe that there is a strong correlation between obesity and the negative consequences it has on brain functions such as memory and thought processing. And, that their research will result in important medical treatments to slow down or prevent a young brain from the ravages of time.

"This discovery has important implications to develop future therapies to keep our brain young and prevent brain degeneration and the aging process. In addition, our study sheds light on the correlation among metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity and the decline in cognitive activities,” says Dr. Pani.

Source: PNAS Dec. 20, 2011 108 (51)
Image source of Aging Brain: NIA