Memory health benefited by dietary proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.




American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

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Loss of memory and thinking ability is one of aging's most tragic consequences. Without memory, we lose our sense of identity and relationship to the world around us. Senile dementia is the medical term for senility, the gradual loss of mental function that so often occurs with aging. Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of senile dementia, accounts for more than 60 percent of the cognitive function disorders in the aging population. Memory is considered the most common and the most important cognitive ability that can be lost. Healthcare professionals may test a patient's memory by asking questions about the history of their present illness or what they had to eat at a recent meal. They may ask a patient to remember three different words, such as a color, a person's address, and an object, then later in the interview, ask if the patient can remember what they were just asked. These are tests of present or short-term memory. Questions concerning family history, date of birth, and facts from a person's past test a patient's past (distant) memory. Delirium, dementias, amnesia, Korsakoff's psychosis, and anxiety are conditions associated with an impaired memory.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated that dietary carbohydrates can improve memory, but whether these effects are associated with elevations in glucose or energy ingestion has yet to be determined. The subjects of this study were 11 men and 11 women aged 61 to 79 years who fasted the night before the study began. They consumed a 300 ml drink that contained pure protein (whey), carbohydrates (glucose), fat (safflower oil), or a nonenergy placebo on 4 separate mornings. Cognitive testing was conducted 15 and 60 minutes after ingestion and plasma glucose and serum insulin levels were measured. Only the carbohydrate drink increased glucose levels. Compared to the placebo, all 3 drinks improved delayed paragraph recall testing and either improved or tended to improve immediate paragraph recall. The fat drink improved attention at 60 minutes, and the protein drink decreased the rate of forgetting paragraph recall at 15 minutes. The authors concluded that, "Energy intake from protein, carbohydrate, or fat can enhance memory independently of elevations in blood glucose. Each macronutrient may also exert unique effects on cognition."1


1. Kaplan RJ, et al. Dietary protein, carbohydrate, and fat enhance memory performance in the healthy elderly. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 74, No. 5, 687-693, November 2001.