Calorie Restriction: A Potential Pathway to Slow Brain Aging?
A recent study by the Buck Institute for Research on Aging suggests calorie restriction may be vital in slowing down brain aging. It further uncovers the relationship between a specific gene and dietary restriction and how this could potentially impact neurodegenerative diseases.
Brain aging is a natural phenomenon that occurs as we age, often leading to a decline in memory and learning abilities. Previous research suggests that maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including adequate physical activity, stress management, social connections, and a balanced diet, can help slow down this process. Adding a new dimension to this field of study, researchers from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging have discovered that restricting calorie intake might also be a protective measure against brain aging.
"Understanding factors modulated by dietary restriction and are protective in the brain is a significant research direction in the field," said Dr. Lisa Ellerby.
The Role of Calorie Restriction in Brain Aging
Calorie restriction is widely recognized as a significant intervention in the aging process. Being highly susceptible to aging, the brain became the focus of a study led by Dr. Lisa Ellerby, a professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and a co-senior author. By studying the impact of calorie restriction on brain aging, the team sought to understand how efforts like intermittent fasting might affect brain aging, given its rising popularity.
Previous studies have indicated that dietary restriction could protect the brain against neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. "Age is the largest risk factor for developing diseases of the brain. Postponing or decreasing the rate of aging could retard multiple age-related diseases and thus neurological diseases," Dr. Ellerby explained. With no available treatments to cure Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, it is crucial to understand ways to prevent or slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.
Uncovering the Gene Affected by Calorie Restriction
Dr. Ellerby's team examined how calorie restriction might influence brain aging using fruit fly models and human cells. They identified five genes with specific variants that significantly impacted longevity under dietary restriction, one correlated with the oxidation resistance 1 (OXR1) gene in humans and rodents.
Prior research has suggested that depletion of OXR1 gene products is a common feature of neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson's disease and diabetic retinopathy. At the same time, overexpression of OXR1 may be protective against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The Importance of Protein 'Recycling' in Aging
Beyond its association with neurodegenerative conditions, the OXR1 gene has been found to affect the retromer, a cellular complex that sorts proteins and decides which can be reused by the body. Dr. Ellerby highlighted the importance of this discovery, explaining, "Recycling is important in our daily life. A cell does a similar process — it needs to recycle damaged components."
The team believes these findings may help identify therapeutic targets to slow aging and age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Ellerby suggested, "It is possible that simple changes in our diet can increase the levels of OXR1 in the brain, which would be protective."
Looking Forward: Assessing the Link between Diet and Brain Aging
While this research provides valuable insights, it is still challenging to translate these findings into practical advice for promoting healthy eating and its potential benefits for brain health. Dr. Clifford Segil, a neurologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center, suggested further studies to determine if dietary and caloric restriction could reduce harm from excessive cultural caloric intake and decrease the chances of having a stroke or cerebrovascular disease.
Large numbers of people are currently using injectable medications for weight loss, effectively making them diet-restricted. This cohort, according to Dr. Segil, may serve as valuable data for future research to establish what dietary restriction can do to help prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.
He also proposed the idea of scientists using the results from this study in more complicated organisms than fruit flies and yeasts and collaborating with other scientists to design a study with human clinical data. This could pave the way for a more comprehensive understanding of how calorie restriction impacts brain aging and its implications for neurodegenerative diseases.