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Alzheimer's disease health centre

Overeating could double risk of memory loss

US scientists have shown that older people who overeat may double their risk of developing the memory problems which can precede dementia
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson

13th February 2012 - New research suggests that eating between 2,100 and 6,000 calories per day may double the risk of memory loss, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI), among people age 70 and older.

The new findings are due to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in New Orleans in April.

US scientists found that the more calories older adults took in, the higher their risk of MCI.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)

While not serious enough to greatly interfere in their daily lives, people with MCI may have problems remembering recent events and/or new information, as well as have issues with other brain functions. People with MCI are at greater risk of developing dementia, but not all do.

Dr Marie Janson of Alzheimer’s Research UK said in an e-mailed comment: "Although these findings are yet to be published, they touch on an interesting subject. The initial report suggests older people who consume a high number of calories may be at greater risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. It would be interesting to see how many of these people go on to develop dementia in the future, to see if there is link to Alzheimer’s disease."

Risk increases with calories

The study involved more than 1,200 people between the ages of 70 and 89, including 163 who had signs of MCI. Participants described their diet during the preceding year in a food questionnaire.

One-third ate between 600 and 1,526 calories per day, one-third ate between 1,526 and 2,143, and one-third ate between 2,143 and 6,000 calories per day. The results took into account other factors such as age, sex, education level, history of stroke and depression.

Those who took in the highest number of calories per day had double the risk of MCI.


The study author, Yonas Geda, said in a press release: "Cutting calories and eating foods that make up a healthy diet may be a simpler way to prevent memory loss as we age."

Sam Gandy, of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in New York said in an email: "We know that obesity increases risk for Alzheimer's, and we know that caloric restriction decreases risk for Alzheimer's, so the overeating story fits well."

However, Marc Gordon, an Alzheimer’s researcher in New York says the new study can’t tell us whether eating too much causes memory problems. It may be that memory problems cause us to eat too much. "To say that we should advocate calorie restriction is not warranted. More needs to be done to try and factor in the direction of this association."

Dr Janson of Alzheimer’s Research UK also called for more research: "We know that age is one of the greatest risk factors for dementia, but adopting a healthy lifestyle including a balanced diet and regular exercise, is beneficial in protecting against dementia along with a number of other chronic diseases.

"With 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia, and this number expected to rise dramatically with the ageing population, there is a desperate need to understand more about the risk factors involved. To make real progress, we must invest in research."

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinise the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

Reviewed on February 13, 2012

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