During the experiment, scientists fed laboratory mice with complex carbohydrates obtained from starch and casein protein found in cheese and milk. As a result, the animals have improved memory and learning, as well as the general condition of the brain.
“There are currently no effective pharmaceutical drugs for treating dementia - we can slow these diseases down, but we cannot stop them, so it is very interesting that we are starting to identify diets that affect brain age,” says lead author Devin Wahl.). The work itself is published in Cell Reports.
The results show for the first time that unrestricted, low-protein, high-carb diets are as beneficial for the brain as calorie restriction. For nearly a century, research has surfaced extolling the benefits of calorie restriction as the most potent diet for improving brain health and delaying the onset of neurodegenerative disease in rodents.
Scientists recognize that low-protein, high-carbohydrate diets are by no means new. For example, Okinawans in Japan and many parts of the Mediterranean have found such a variety of foods in their diets. The traditional Okinawan diet contains about nine percent protein, which brings it closer to scientific research: it includes dry fish, soybeans, plants and a small amount of beef. Interestingly, one of their main sources of carbohydrates is sweet potatoes (yams).
Comparison of a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet versus a calorie-restricted diet / © Cell Reports
In the experiments, mice were fed complex carbohydrates derived from starch and casein protein found in cheese and milk. To assess the benefits of the diet for the brain, scientists focused on the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for learning and memory. The changes were monitored using a series of tests for spatial awareness and memory, and experts noted modest improvements in male and female mice at both young and adult ages.
“In neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, of all parts of the brain, it is the hippocampus that tends to degrade first. However, a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet appears to have improved hippocampal health in mice, some even better than those seen on a calorie-restricted diet,”the study said.