~ Overeating May Damage the Brain

The Press

Overeating may not just increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes or cancer -- it may also be damaging your brain.

A United States neuroscientist has found evidence that the risk of developing brain disorders such as Parkinson's Disease could be reduced by simply eating less.

Mounting evidence shows that restricting how much we eat may slow down the ageing process and allow us to live longer.

Dr Mark Mattson, who leads a research team at the US National Institute on Ageing, decided to look at whether the brain could also benefit from a low-calorie diet.

The prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science this month published Mattson's study comparing monkeys fed a diet with 30 per cent fewer calories, with monkeys on a normal diet.

After six months the monkeys from both groups were treated with a toxin which induces a Parkinson's- type brain disorder. The monkeys who had been on a reduced-calorie diet showed "significantly" better control over their movement than those who ate normally. They also had higher levels of dopamine, the key hormone whose loss leads to the symptoms of Parkinson's.

The diet monkeys also had higher levels of a growth factor (GDNF) which has previously been linked to reducing the symptoms of Parkinson's.

Mattson told the BBC his study showed that restricting calories could protect the brain.

This could be because the monkeys on a restricted diet responded to the stress by increasing the production of proteins that helped the body cope with stress and resist disease.

Mattson's latest research follows other animal studies showing strenuous exercise may ward off the effects of Parkinson's.

Parkinson's New Zealand already advises sufferers to get 20 to 30 minutes of exercise every day.

There are about 8000 New Zealanders with the disease.

Nutrition Foundation honorary medical and scientific director professor Cliff Tasman-Jones said there was some "soft" evidence that Alzheimer's "may be increased to a certain extent" in people who were obese or had obesity-related conditions.

"There is (also) some reasonably good evidence that if you have a diet which has a reasonably good amount of omega 3 fat, this seems to have some protective effect against Alzheimer's.

"So there is some evidence that diet can have an effect (on the brain)."

However, he cautioned against applying an animal study to humans.

Auckland University anatomy professor Richard Faull said he had not heard of Mattson's research but it was already known that diet had an impact on the brain.

"A balanced diet with certain vitamins and fatty acids are very critical to the brain."

While Mattson's work would have to be substantiated by further studies Faull said it was "an interesting suggestion".

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