Cut Calories To Expand Your Brain

The search for a pill to save the memory power of the aging brain is driving scientists to track the microscopic ways that nerve tissue changes with time. But until researchers devise a reliable way to block cognitive deterioration, you can take a simple natural measure to protect your mind: Eat less food. Lab tests show that eating 30 percent less food may keep you mentally sharper.

Memory Essence

Memory is an essential part of our existence. Without the ability to learn new tasks, remember basic things or put events into correct perspective, you cannot live a normal or productive life. Stress, aging and various viruses harm brain health, often leading to mental illness and diseases like Alzheimer’s. Researchers hope that they can soon devise a pill to fight these undesirable changes. In the meantime, a change of diet may provide a modicum of help.

According to Baylor University scientists, a so-called “memory pill” and perhaps even a cure for Alzheimer’s may be achievable in the near future. In fact, a recent Baylor research study, led by Maura Costa-Mattioli, has isolated a specific gene in mice that actually helps give them super memories while concurrently reversing the course of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative mental illnesses.

A gene known as Protein Kinase R (PKR) is triggered at the onset of Alzheimer’s. According to Ottawa Hospital Research Institute scientist John Bell, who also contributed to the study, “PKR plays a dual role, one in regulating simple everyday processes like the way neurons talk to each other [for] memory, but also has a stress response.” Thus, when PKR is blocked, it not only prevents but also reverses degenerative mental illnesses, while also allowing the brain to go into super memory mode.

Mental Inhibitions

Bell drew on his cancer research to study the effect of PKR and, thus, find a gene to inhibit its effects by creating PKR-deficient mice. These mice were then used by Costa-Marrioli and her team with the hope of finding “an inhibitor, a molecule, a drug that will specifically block PKR (in mice, and) be able to do the same (in humans). And we did,” she said.

According to their findings, when PKR is blocked or genetically suppressed in mice, an immune molecule known as gamma interferon is able spontaneously to improve brain function by increasing “communication between neurons, improving memory and making brain function more efficient,” Costa-Mattioli said.

Proof came forth again and again as researchers put the PKR-deficient mice to the test. In a series of memory tests, those with inhibited PKR were able to learn and recall new patterns on the first try, while the unaffected mice took up to several days to accomplish similar results. And because the brains of both mice and men release PKR, the development of a super brain pill for humans may not be far off.

Natural Brain Help

While researchers are working on a pill to block PKR, there is something natural you can do for yourself today that also supports life longevity and brain health: Limit your food portions. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Italian scientists have discovered that easting less food keeps the mind young.

Researchers at the Institute of General Pathology, Faculty of Medicine at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Rome, demonstrated that when lab mice consume only 70 percent of their usual food intake, a molecular process occurs that prevents the brain from aging prematurely. And while previous studies have shown improved cognitive abilities (e.g., memory, learning, anxiety control) among mice on strict diets, they were unable to pinpoint the reason. However, these new findings clearly indicate that a calorie-restricted diet triggers CREB1, a protein molecule that activates a number of genes that play essential roles in brain function and longevity.

The connection between gaining weight and losing brain power has been known for some time. There is a strong correlation between middle-age obesity and later-age cognitive impairment. According to Giovambattista Pani, one of the researchers, “our findings identify for the first time an important mediator of the effects of diet on the brain… This discovery has important implications to develop future therapies to keep our brains young and prevent brain degeneration and the aging process."

These findings are exciting because they indicate the direct relationship among stress, aging and caloric intake on cognitive function. While the idea of possessing pills to stave off memory loss and mental illness is exciting news, these future medicines are not panaceas. They may someday allow you to maintain an unhealthy lifestyle while feeling better, but they necessitate a life dependent on drugs. Since researchers know that stress and excess food both increase the risk of poor cognitive function and diseases like Alzheimer’s in later life, then it makes sense to put that preventive information to use now.

Productive Changes

By changing the way we eat, reducing our portion sizes and increasing the whole foods we eat, we can help increase our life expectancy while avoiding a preventable trigger of poor memory and mental dysfunction. If we couple this with easy stress-relief methods, like meditation and yoga, then we not only will feel better now but have in place a defense against poor brain health later in life.

If you take these simple steps, then you won’t need a new super memory pill and CREB1 therapies when they become available. Or you may be able to take smaller doses to enjoy mentally clear golden years.

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Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.