Your Brain on Food


You don’t need a nutrition degree to know that in order to maintain or lose weight, you need to watch what you eat. You can run all you want, but if you’re eating greasy fast food every few days or receiving Christmas cards from the Tastykakes delivery boy, you’re not going to see results. But what you may not realize is that overeating is not only bad for your body, it’s bad for your brain.

According to a recent study at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Rome, a molecule, called CREB1, is triggered by a low caloric diet. And when CREB1 is triggered – when you choose carrots over cupcakes, for example – it activates many genes linked to longevity and to the proper functioning of the brain. In the study, Giovambattista Pani, researcher at the Institute of General Pathology, Faculty of Medicine at the university, and his team discovered why eating less keeps the brain young.

“We were intrigued by previous studies showing that, in mice, caloric restriction improves brain function and delays aging and Alzheimer’s disease, whereas obesity has the opposite effects, and wanted to investigate the biochemical mechanism behind that,” says Dr. Pani.

In the experiment, the team studied how caloric restriction affects mice, allowing them to eat up to 70 percent of the food they normally consume. Typically (as similar studies have already been done), caloric-restricted mice do not become obese or develop diabetes. When their food intake is lessened, they show greater cognitive performance and memory and are less aggressive. Overall, compared to their overfed counterparts, they are healthier, smarter, and less likely to develop fatal diseases like Alzheimer’s.

During the study, the researchers closely investigated the molecules CREB1 and Sirtuins and discovered that not only do they work together in brain cells to make them healthier, but that their cooperation is triggered by low caloric intake.

“Caloric restriction can be seen as an experimental strategy to understand what happens in the brain when we eat too much,” says Dr. Pani. “Obesity and over nutrition represent rampant public health issues worldwide, and we need as much knowledge as possible in order to understand and prevent the detrimental consequences of these conditions on brain function and on human health in general.”

And because obesity is a national pandemic, it’s important to also look to people, not mice, for whom caloric restriction is working.

“One of the best examples of the health benefits of caloric restriction can be found among the Okinawa, Japan residents who enjoy increased longevity and lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes,” says Dr. Jessica Bartfield, internal medicine and medical weight-loss specialist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of the Loyola University Health System.

“Their typical diet includes high amounts of carbohydrates in the form of fruits and vegetables and low amounts of saturated fats – high in nutrition and low in calories, respectively.”

Can’t put down your fork? Take a page from their cookbook and load up on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish next time you’re at the market. You’ll feel like you’re eating a lot when in reality those foods are low in saturated and trans fats, resulting in reduced calories and a reduced you! Your brain (and body) will thank you.

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  1. Your Brain On Food « - January 18, 2012

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