Study: Overeating May Double the Risk of Memory Loss

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Passing on a second helping of dessert may not only maintain your waistline but also your memory.

A new study found that elderly people who ate more calories a day had a higher risk of a type of memory loss called mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Researchers surveyed 1,233 people ages 70 to 89. The participants were free of dementia, but 163 had symptoms of MCI. Participants self-reported their daily caloric intake in a food questionnaire, and the researchers divided them into three groups accordingly. The lowest-calorie group consumed 600 to 1,526 calories per day, the middle group ate 1,526 to 2,143 per day, and the highest-intake group reported consuming between 2,143 to 6,000 calories per day.

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Those in the highest-calorie group were twice as likely to have MCI as those eating less than 1,526 calories a day. The risk was independent of other factors that influence memory loss like history of stroke, diabetes and level of education.

“The higher the amount of calories consumed, the higher the risk of MCI,” says study author Yonas Geda of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.; the study results will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in New Orleans in April.

MCI is a stage of cognitive decline between normal age-related memory loss and Alzheimer’s dementia. People with MCI have problems with memory and thinking that are noticeable to others, but that don’t interfere with everyday life. The condition can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s, but not all cases of MCI progress into full-blown dementia. According to the recent Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, more than 6% of Americans ages 70 to 89 develop MCI each year.

(MORE: To Ward Off Dementia, Try Staying Healthy from Head to Toe)

It’s unclear why the amount of calories we consume may affect memory, but some scientists theorize that excessive calorie intake may stimulate stress proteins in the brain, which may contribute to memory loss.

“Excessive calorie intake is the key here. Excessive intake is associated with thinking and memory,” says Geda. “The good news is consuming calories in moderation will not negatively influence memory. A healthy diet may prevent memory loss as we age.”

In a 2002 study, Columbia University researchers found similar results: among elderly people with Alzheimer’s-risk genes, those who ate higher-calorie diets had an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, compared with those who consumed less. And in a study in rats, Australian researchers also found that increased calorie intake was linked with memory loss, while reducing calories helped stave off such problems.

So cut back on those potato chips — it may be good for both your belly and your brain.

MORE: Study: Zapping the Brain Boosts Memory

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