Remember the Atkins Diet that helped sell so much beef back in the early 2000s? It turns out Atkins-style high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets could provide benefits beyond weight loss, by helping prevent the onset of cognitive impairment in older people.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic conducted the study examining relationships between diet and cognitive impairment, with funding from the National Institute on Aging, and published their findings in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The researchers, led by Mayo Clinic epidemiologist Dr. Rosebud Roberts, tracked over evaluated 1,200 people between 70 and 89, and documented their dietary habits. They identified 940 of the participants who had no sign of cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study, and tracked them for four years.
After four years, 200 of those participants showed signs of mild cognitive impairment, including problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that were greater than normal age-related changes. Those who reported the highest carbohydrate intake at the beginning of the study were almost two times likelier to develop mild cognitive impairment than those with the lowest intake of carbohydrates. Sugar also seems to play a role, as participants with the highest sugar intake were 1.5 times likelier to experience mild cognitive impairment than those with the lowest levels, according to a Mayo Clinic news release.
On the other hand, participants with the highest intake of protein were 21 percent less likely to exhibit cognitive impairment than those with the lowest protein intake. Those whose diets were highest in fat were 42 percent less likely to face cognitive impairment compared to those with the lowest fat intake..
Taking fat and protein intake into account, people with the highest carbohydrate intake were 3.6 times likelier to develop mild cognitive impairment.
Dr. Roberts does not advise radical changes in diet based on these results. "We think it's important that you eat a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat, because each of these nutrients has an important role in the body,” she says.
The folks behind the Atkins Diet believe the research helps validate the benefits of their dietary philosophy. "This is consistent with what we've seen in past published research on how a lower carbohydrate diet can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's," says Colette Heimowitz, vice president of education and nutrition at Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. "This is further evidence that a lower-carbohydrate, lower sugar diet with higher proteins and higher fats is a healthy eating approach and will help reduce the risk for cognitive impairment."