A major new study on brain aging has good news and bad news…
The bad news is that your brain starts to decline much earlier than previously believed, in your late 40s.
The good news is that you can prevent and even reverse this decline by eating fewer carbohydrates.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers analyzed brain scans of about 1,000 people. They found that brain regions lose the ability to communicate with each other as we get older. This impaired connectivity inside the brain leads to slower thinking and weaker memory. The scientists discovered that it begins in many people as early as age 47.
In the second stage of testing, the scientists split subjects into two groups. One ate their usual diet, which was high in carbs. The other group went on a low-carb diet.
After a week, the high-carb group continued on a path of cognitive decline. But the low-carb group had improved brain-region communication.
The diet essentially made their brains younger.
How did this happen?
Normally, brain cells use glucose for energy. But if you’re on a low-carb diet, they use ketones for energy instead. The scientists believe ketones provide more energy than glucose, which allows brain regions to communicate with each other better.
“As people get older, their brains start to lose the ability to metabolize glucose efficiently,” said lead author Dr. Lilianne Mujica-Parodi. That causes “neurons to slowly starve, and brain networks to destabilize.”
That cell starvation is linked with brain aging and especially dementia.
If you can increase the energy available to your brain “by using a different fuel, the hope is that we can restore the brain to youthful functioning,” said Dr. Mujica-Parodi.
The study backs up previous research.
Scientists from Johns Hopkins University enrolled 27 subjects with mild cognitive problems. They followed one of two diets for 12 weeks. One group went on a modified low-carb Atkins diet. Their goal was to eat less than 20 grams of carbohydrates a day.
The other group didn’t restrict carbs. They averaged over 100 grams a day.
At the study’s start, the subjects took mental-assessment and memory tests. They were tested again six and 12 weeks after they started the diets.
At the study’s midpoint and at the end, the low-carb group had a 15% improvement on their memory scores. The other group’s scores got worse.
Low-Carb Diet Guidelines
Low-carb eating is simple:
- Avoid sugar and starchy foods like bread, pasta, rice, beans, and potatoes.
- Eat meat, fish, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, and natural fats like olive oil and butter.
- Fruits that are high in fiber and low in sugar are OK. They include berries, avocados, grapefruit, kiwis, pears, and watermelon. But avoid fruit juices. They are typically high in sugar.
The most important rule of low-carb eating? Avoid sugary foods and drinks that push insulin higher, especially soda.
You don’t have to count calories or weigh your food. Eat when you’re hungry and until you’re satisfied.
A low-carb diet gives your brain the fuel it needs to keep you sharp into your 70s, 80s, and beyond.
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