Are You Chewing up Your Words?

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Eating less doesn’t just boost physical health and help one lose weight. In elderly people, it improves memory too. Restricting calorie intake has been shown to increase lifespan in mice, reduce the risk of heart disease in people and boost cognitive ability in elderly animals. This could help delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most common forms of dementia among the elderly. To see if the cognitive benefit held for people, Agnes Flöel and colleagues at the University of Münster in Germany tested the short-term memory of 50 people with an average age of 60, who were all overweight, but not obese. The researchers then got one-third to eat 30 per cent fewer calories than normal each day. After three months, the dieters scored 20 per cent higher on the test than they had before the diet, recalling on average 12.5 words compared to 10.5. Those who did not go on the diet showed no difference. As it turned out, the dieters had lower levels of glucose and insulin in their blood, which previous studies have linked to greater neural function.