Eating less may protect nerve cells

St. Louis, March 30, 2001 Skipping the donuts may preserve your brainpower. A new study finds that cutting calories by about a third protects nerve cells from damage caused by interrupted blood flow.

Blocking blood flow to the eye, in rats, mimicked the shortage of blood in the brain that causes the most common type of stroke.

"Whether an observation in rats will apply to humans is not known. But when we combine our findings with those from other studies, we see a pattern. It suggests that eating fewer calories may lead to a longer and healthier life," said Arthur H. Neufeld, Ph.D., the Bernard Becker Research Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Neufelds team reported its finding in the latest edition of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) online journal FJ Express (http://www.fasebj.org).

The researchers studied rats with various risk factors for ischemic damage of the retina. They compared young rats to older rats, rats with diabetes to those with normal blood sugar, and rats on normal diets to those that ate 30 to 40 percent less food.

They tallied the loss of retinal ganglion cells nerve cells crucial to vision one week after briefly interrupting blood flow to the retina. As expected, the older rats had more damage than the younger ones: they lost about 40 percent of their retinal ganglion cells compared with 20 percent. Diabetic rats also fared worse than their nondiabetic counterparts.

Neufeld and colleagues placed both young and older animals on the calorie-restricted diet. The animals in these groups fed only three days a week for three months. The other groups had free access to food and water.

The young calorie-restricted animals gained 25 percent less weight as they matured than the other young animals. The older animals lost weight. They weighed about 16 percent less than the olde

Contact: Jim Dryden
Washington University School of Medicine

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