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Connection Between Overeating and Memory Loss

Originally published on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012

Memory Loss in SeniorIt’s long been known that the foods comprising a person’s diet have a number of physiological impacts. New research, however, is suggesting that increased calorie consumption doesn’t just contribute to obesity, but also on the brain’s ability to function.

Having a healthy diet, therefore, can combat obesity in seniors and also improve their mental performance, according to new findings from the Scottsdale Mayo Clinic.

The research found that seniors who had a diet of at least 2143 calories per day were more prone to memory loss than their counterparts with smaller diets, consuming 1526 calories. Once the threshold of 2143 calories was reached, subjects doubled their risk of memory loss.

Seniors aged 70-89 participated in the study and were divided into three groups based on daily average caloric intake. Researchers focused specifically on the calories consumed in the subject’s diet, and not activity levels and obesity.

Doctors note that a persons’ activity level, weight and a number of other factors contribute to their caloric needs. For example, people with active lifestyles often require more calories to carry out their daily lives. They burn those extra calories in their diets through exercise or other physical activity. Sedentary people, who have high-calorie diets are more likely to develop obesity because the calories are not being used as energy, instead being stored as fat and can contribute to obesity.

Higher calorie diets were found to erode mental function in the seniors tested, as they displayed increased evidence of MCI (minor cognitive impairment). MCI is a category of brain function that falls in between average “senior moments,” like forgetting the house keys, and more serious things like forgetting a flight. MCI is often the stage before Alzheimer’s, however it should be noted that MCI does not always develop into more serious forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s.

The lead doctor in the study said that cutting calories and eating foods that make up a healthy diet may be a way to prevent memory loss as people age. The doctor concluded that high calorie diets might contribute to the production of harmful molecules that accumulate in cells to cause neuron breakdowns. However, the doctor notes that at this stage more research needs to be done and the conclusions drawn from the study are merely speculative, and that the study does not prove outright that high calorie diets are cause MCI or indicate a link between overeating, obesity and developing dementia.

Health officials suggest that women over 50 have a diet of 1600 and 2200 calories per day, while men of the same age should be consuming 2000-2800. Once again, various caloric needs are adjusted based on your activity level, body composition and other factors.

This research further supports evidence that a healthy diet can improve the overall well-being of one’s life. A diet with sufficient nutritional value and dense, useful calories has been shown to fight obesity, promote weight loss and now improve brain function. A few examples of foods that have been noted to contribute to improve memory and curb obesity are dark green leafy vegetables, fish, avocado, nut butters, whole grains and oil-based salad dressings.

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