New study reveals food may play a role in memory function

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A hormone in the small intestine and the brain could affect consumers’ likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s

Many consumers fill their diets with foods that will make them feel good. Now, researchers from Iowa State University found that what we’re eating could be doing a lot more.

Researchers found that having higher levels of a satiety hormone called Cholecystokinin (CCK) -- which is found in both the small intestine and the hippocampus in the brain -- could decrease the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.

According to researcher Auriel Willette, the scientists are hopeful that this study will “shed further light on how satiety hormones in the blood and brain affect brain function.”

Brain food

The researchers had nearly 300 participants involved in the study, which utilized the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) to study participants’ levels of CCK and its effect on their brains.

CCK is in the hippocampus in the brain and works to form memories. In the small intestines, the hormone lets fats and proteins get absorbed into the body. The researchers found that participants who had higher levels of CCK were 65 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other memory issues.  

“By looking at the nutritional aspect, we can tell if a certain diet could prevent Alzheimer’s disease or prevent progression of the disease,” said researcher Alexandra Plagman.

The researchers were encouraged by the outcome of the study, and they hope that more researchers and physicians will look at patients’ diets from all angles -- not just calorie, fat, or sugar intake.

“The regulation of what we eat and how much we eat can have some association with how good our memory is,” Willette said. “Bottom line: what we eat and what our body does with it affects our brain.”

Other effects

Recent studies have found that Alzheimer’s can be affected by other day-to-day habits.

For example, a study conducted by researchers at the Krembil Brain Institute found that drinking coffee can help protect consumers from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. On the other hand, researchers from UC Berkeley found that not sleeping well at night can lead to poor cognitive issues, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“Nearly every disease killing us later in life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” said researcher Matthew Walker. “We’ve done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep, and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that.”

The researchers emphasize that it’s not about how many hours of sleep we get every night, but the quality of those hours that can help improve our health.

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