Overeating Can Contribute To Memory Loss
February 13, 2012

Overeating Can Contribute To Memory Loss

New research suggests that overeating may double the risk of memory loss, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI), in people age 70 and older.

US scientists have shown that a high caloric intake can substantially increase the risk of developing MCI, which is the stage between normal memory loss that comes with aging and early Alzheimer´s disease.

The findings were released today at aan.com and will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology´s 64th Annual Meeting in New Orleans in April.

Researchers, led by Yonas Geda, a neuropsychiatrist at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, found that people who consume more than 2,143 calories per day had more than double the risk of developing MCI compared to those who ate fewer than 1,500 calories per day.

“We observed a dose-response pattern which simply means; the higher the amount of calories consumed each day, the higher the risk of MCI,” said Geda, who is also a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study involved 1,233 people between the ages of 70 and 89 and free of dementia at the start of the study. Of those involved, 163 did have MCI. Participants reported the amount of calories they took in using a food questionnaire. They were divided into three equal groups based on their daily caloric intake: a third consumed between 600 and 1,526 calories per day; a third consumed between 1,527 and 2,143 calories per day; and another third consumed between 2,143 and 6,000 calories per day.

The results were the same even after adjusting for history of stroke, diabetes, education level, and other factors known to risk memory loss. The study team did not find any significant difference in risk for the middle group.

Dr Marie Janson of Alzheimer´s Research UK said the findings touch on an interesting subject.

“The initial report suggests older people who consume a high number of calories may be at greater risk of developing mild cognitive impairment,” she told The Telegraph. “It would be interesting to see how many of these people go on to develop dementia in the future, to see if there is link to Alzheimer´s disease.”

“We know that age is one of the greatest risk factors for dementia, but adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, is beneficial in protecting against dementia along with a number of other chronic diseases,” Janson added. “With 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia, and this number expected to rise dramatically with the aging population, there is a desperate need to understand more about the risk factors involved. To make real progress, we must invest in research.”

The research findings concurs with Australian research that has shown that excessive calorie intake is associated with a greater risk of MCI, said Geda.

People with MCI often have trouble with memory, language or thinking severe enough to be noticeable to others around them, but is not serious enough to interfere with daily activities, according to the Alzheimer´s Association. Also, people with MCI are usually aware of their forgetfulness.

Because the problems do not interfere with daily life, the person does not meet the criteria for being diagnosed with dementia. And not everyone diagnosed with MCI goes on to develop Alzheimer´s, the association says.

“We have to be extremely careful about generalizations,” Geda told Nanci Hellmich of USA TODAY. “The first step is that we have to confirm this finding in a bigger study. Certainly, we are not recommending starvation or malnutrition.”

“Cutting calories and eating foods that make up a healthy diet may be a simpler way to prevent memory loss as we age,” he noted.

These findings should encourage physicians and health care providers to discuss links between healthy living practices -- such as eating healthy, limiting sugar intake -- and overall cognitive function with their patients, said neurologist Neelum Aggarwal, a member of the American Academy of Neurology.


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