Cutting Calories Is Good For Your Brain

Research from MIT says low calorie diets help slow brain cell loss.


Just say no. Your brain will thank you. Cupcakes photo via Shutterstock

This time of year, the most common argument for cutting calories likely has to do with your beach body. But a new study from MIT says reducing your daily intake is important for a far less superficial reason: It preserves brain health and cognitive function.

The study, which was published in The Journal of Neuroscience, used mice to test whether daily calorie restriction would slow the brain cell loss characteristic of aging-related diseases like Alzheimer’s. The researchers put mice that had been genetically altered to quickly undergo brain cell loss on a reduced calorie diet for three months, and then performed a series of memory and cognition tests. A report from MIT quotes researcher Li-Huei Tsai, a professor of neuroscience at the university, about the results:

“We not only observed a delay in the onset of neurodegeneration in the calorie-restricted mice, but the animals were spared the learning and memory deficits of mice that did not consume reduced-calorie diets,” Tsai says.

That’s all great, but if you, like us, are wary of the idea of dieting for a lifetime, even in the name of brain health, there’s more good news to come: The researchers say there may be a way to develop a drug that mimics the effects of calorie restriction. In the mice that were studied, calorie restriction activated the brain-protecting enzyme SIRT1, which has been shown to prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s, and the scientists think a pharmaceutical could achieve the same results. The report says:

Curious if they could recreate the benefits of caloric restriction without changing the animals’ diets, the scientists gave a separate group of mice a drug that activates SIRT1. Similar to what the researchers found in the mice exposed to reduced-calorie diets, the mice that received the drug had less cell loss and better cellular connectivity than the mice that did not receive the drug. Additionally, the mice that received the drug treatment performed as well as normal mice in learning and memory tests.

“The question now is whether this type of treatment will work in other animal models, whether it’s safe for use over time, and whether it only temporarily slows down the progression of neurodegeneration or stops it altogether,” Tsai says.

Despite the fact that more research is needed to truly determine if calorie restriction can help your brain, let’s face it: We could probably all benefit from skipping that cookie at lunch. Let this study give you one more reason to say no.