Low-protein, high-carb diet may promote healthy brain ageing

Researchers at the University of Sydney have shown that a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet may be the key to healthy brain ageing and longevity.

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In a mouse model, Devin Wahl and colleagues showed that an unrestricted diet low in protein and rich in carbs not only improved overall health, but also brain health, learning and memory.

Given the current lack of drugs for dementia, it is exciting that researchers are starting to identify diets that can affect how the brain ages.

The research, which was recently published in the journal Cell Reports, is the first study of its kind to demonstrate that the diet provides similar protective brain benefits to calorie-restricted diets, which have proven longevity benefits, but are difficult for most people to sustain.

It shows a lot of promise that we have been able to replicate the same kind of gene changes in the part of the brain responsible for memory that we also see when we severely restrict calories.”

Devin Wahl, Lead Researcher

Senior author David Le Couteur says the benefits of a low-protein, high-carb diet have already been appreciated by many cultures, with people in Okinawa in Japan an many Mediterranean regions having long adopted the mix:

”The traditional diet of Okinawa is around nine percent protein, which is similar to our study, with sources including lean fish, soy and plants, with very little beef. Interestingly, one of their main sources of carbohydrate is sweet potato.”

In the current study, mice were fed complex carbohydrates derived from starch and the protein casein, which is present in cheese and milk.

To gauge the benefits to brain health, the team focused on the hippocampus, which is the brain region involved in learning and memory.

The researchers performed a series of spatial awareness and memory tests, which showed modest improvements in learning and memory among both young and old mice.

Couteur says that, usually, the hippocampus is first region of the brain to start deteriorating in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.

However, the low-protein high-carbohydrate diet appeared to promote hippocampus health and biology in the mice, on some measures to an even greater degree than those on the low-calorie diet.”

David Le Couteur, Senior Author

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.

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