Can Calorie Restriction Be the Key to Slowing Down Brain Aging?
As we get older, our brain ages naturally, and some things it does, like memory and learning, may not work as well.
Researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging found that eating less food might help protect the brain from aging. They discovered a specific gene that becomes better when you eat fewer calories. This gene helps with the processes that keep the brain healthy as it ages.
It’s known that living a healthy life by doing things like being active, managing stress, having social connections, and eating well can slow down the aging of the brain, according to previous research by the National Institute on Aging.
The new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, used models of both fruit flies and human cells to show how restricting calories could benefit the brain’s aging process.
How Eating Less Affects the Aging Brain
Scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, led by Dr. Lisa Ellerby, studied how eating fewer calories might influence the aging of the brain. They focused on this because limiting calories is a significant way to impact aging, and the brain is especially sensitive to aging.
Dr. Ellerby explained that many people try different forms of calorie restriction, like intermittent fasting, to slow down aging. Their research aimed to understand how these efforts might affect the aging of the brain.
A study from February 2021 suggested that eating less might help protect the brain from inflammation and degeneration.
Dr. Ellerby stressed that age-related diseases, especially those affecting the brain, pose a big challenge. Aging is the main risk factor for these diseases, and there are currently no effective treatments for conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Therefore, finding ways to slow down or prevent these diseases is crucial.
In their study, the researchers used both fruit fly models and human cells to see how calorie restriction could impact brain aging. They identified a gene, called OXR1, that plays a crucial role. This gene affects a process called retromer, responsible for recycling proteins in the body.
The surprising discovery was that OXR1, previously linked to responding to oxidative stress, is involved in the retromer function. This recycling process is essential for a cell, similar to how we recycle things in our daily lives.
Dr. Ellerby believes that these findings could lead to potential therapies to slow aging and age-related brain diseases. Boosting OXR1 levels, possibly through changes in diet or genetic manipulation, might be protective for the brain.
However, Dr. Clifford Segil, a neurologist, noted that it’s challenging to translate these findings into practical advice for promoting healthy eating. More research is needed to understand the link between diet and aging in the brain.
“Dietary restriction has clear benefits in terms of improved metabolism and fat burning as we age. The idea of restricting our diet for the benefit of our brain is something that should be explored in more complex organisms than just fruit flies and yeast. Even though research often starts with these simpler organisms, it’s important to look at more advanced ones,” explained Dr. Segil.
He believes that studying the effects of dietary and caloric restriction is essential to understand if our habit of eating too many calories is doing more harm than good. Maintaining a healthy diet not only reduces the risk of strokes and cerebrovascular disease but also plays a role in overall well-being.
Dr. Segil also noted that many people nowadays are using injectable medications for weight loss, which effectively puts them on a restricted diet. This group of individuals could be valuable for future research, helping scientists determine how dietary restriction may protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
Expressing his hope for collaboration, Dr. Segil encouraged scientists to take the findings from studies involving fruit flies and yeasts and apply them to more complex organisms. He envisioned a partnership between scientists studying simple organisms and those working with human patients using injectable weight loss medications (GLP-1 agents). This collaborative effort, he suggested, could lead to studies with human clinical data, providing valuable insights into the impact of dietary restriction on our health.