Eating Less Can Help Older People Improve Cognitive Skills | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 21.02.2009
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Eating Less Can Help Older People Improve Cognitive Skills

Yet another incentive for older people to lose weight has come from a team of German researchers who say reducing calorie intake can improve older people's ability to recall past events.

A series of wires connected to a person's head for research

Those who consumed the fewest calories experienced the biggest memory improvement

The researchers at the University of Muenster in Germany found that memory and cognitive skills showed marked improvement among healthy, overweight subjects who cut their calorie intake by 30 percent over a three-month period.

Unlike conventional "weight-reduction diets," which focus on cutting specific food groups, the German test subjects were not told which foods to avoid.

Instead, the 49 men and women with a median age of 60 were divided into three groups. The first group was told to eat as they normally would. The second group had a similar diet but was given a higher proportion of unsaturated fatty acids, such as those found in olive oil and fish.

The third group was told to strictly reduce their calorie intake, while making sure not to drop below 1,200 calories a day. They were told that they were to avoid crash-dieting, but that they should eat about a third less than they normally would.

Fewer calories, better memory

A plate with lots of fruit

Participants were told to maintain a healthy diet

After three months, there was no difference in memory scores in the first two groups, but members of the third group performed better.

The average weight loss was 2.5 kilos (5.5 pounds) per person. Those who adhered most strictly to the guidelines and reduced their intake by up to 30 percent lost an average 3.5 kilos (7.7 pounds).

Those who restricted calories the most also exhibited the most striking improvement in memory and cognitive skills, according to Dr. Agnes Floel, assistant professor of neurology at the University of Muenster.

"To our knowledge, the current results provide first experimental evidence in humans that caloric restriction improves memory in the elderly," she wrote in a report published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The present findings may help to develop new prevention and treatment strategies for maintaining cognitive health into old age," she added.

However, Floel stressed that the test subjects had been instructed to avoid crash-dieting. They were admonished to eat a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

Floel added that more research is needed and added that a larger study is being planned.

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