Faltering memory is a way of life for many people as they age. The medical community is working diligently trying to find means through which to prevent memory loss and even improve our memories. With that said, I saw an intriguing discovery, reported in late 2008 by PNAS in an article called, “Caloric restriction improves memory in elderly humans.” PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was established in 1914 and has become a popular source for research reports.
According to the report, a group fifty healthy elderly people, some at a healthy weight and some overweight and at an average age of 60, were divided into groups of three. One group of 20 participants was to follow a 30% decrease in calorie consumption. Another group of 20 participants increased their diet consumption of unsaturated fatty acids by 20%; that’s the healthy fat. The third group of 10 participants was the control group who made no changes in their dietary consumption. Prior to the two groups making any dietary changes the memory of all participants was tested through word memorization. The memory test consisted of a list of 15 words which, after 30 minutes, each participant was asked to repeat. The memory of all participants was tested again, three months after the two groups changed their eating habits.
The follow-up testing found the group consuming fewer calories experienced a 20% increase in verbal memory scores. One of the researchers, Dr. Agnes Flöel of the University of Münster in Germany, indicated two possibilities for the increase in memory scores, stemming from calorie cutting success of the group. First, decreased inflammation would help brain function; and second, decreased insulin allowed for longer memory retention. Members of the group also lost up to seven pounds each.
The PNAS report states that, “No significant memory changes were observed in the other 2 groups.”
With only 20 people involved in the calorie reduction group, I’m skeptical. Should we be taking this as a marvelous discovery based on such a small group? What other factors were involved? If the memory enhancement was a direct result of lost weight only, will they continue to experience good memory retention when their body chemicals even out? Did the improvements work equally for men and women? What happens if, like many dieters, they intake more calories? Do they lose their memory enhancements?
Dr. Flöel indicates that she and her team will conduct larger studies, a decision I applaud and look forward to seeing the results.