A long-term study that included more than 100 years of birth, death, health and genealogical records for 300 Swedish families in an isolated village showed that an individual's risk for diabetes and early death increased if his or her paternal grandparents grew up in times of food abundance rather than food shortage.
"Evidence indicates that what you eat can affect your grandchildren's brain molecules and synapses," Gmez-Pinilla said. "We are trying to find the molecular basis to explain this."
Controlled meal-skipping or intermittent caloric restriction might provide health benefits, he said.
Excess calories can reduce the flexibility of synapses and increase the vulnerability of cells to damage by causing the formation of free radicals. Moderate caloric restriction could protect the brain by reducing oxidative damage to cellular proteins, lipids and nucleic acids, Gmez-Pinilla said.
The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative damage. Blueberries have been shown to have a strong antioxidant capacity, he noted.
In contrast to the healthy effects of diets that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, diets high in trans fats and saturated fats adversely affect cognition, studies indicate.
Junk food and fast food negatively affect the brain's synapses, said Gmez-Pinilla, who eats fast food less often since conducting this research. Brain synapses and several molecules related to learning and memory are adversely affected by unhealthy diets, he said.
Emerging research indicates that the effects of diet on the brain, combined with the effects of exercise and a good night's sleep, can strengthen synapses and provide other cognitive benefits, he added.
In Okinawa, an island in Japan where people frequently eat fish and exe
|Contact: Stuart Wolpert|
University of California - Los Angeles