October 24, 2001
Breakfast May Improve Memory in Healthy Elderly
- Eating breakfast may improve memory in healthy elderly persons,
according to recent research highlighted by the Public Information Committee
of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences (ASNS) and the American
Society for Clinical Nutrition (ASCN).
In a study of 22 men and women 61 to 79 years of age, researchers observed
improved performance on memory tests 15 minutes after ingestion of pure
protein, pure fat, or pure carbohydrate beverages following an overnight
fast, as compared with scores achieved after ingestion of a placebo beverage
containing no energy. Previous studies have shown similar results following
ingestion of carbohydrate, but this study, just released in the American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2001;74:687-693), shows that memory may be
enhanced by eating any type of breakfast -- regardless of whether it is
comprised of protein, fat, or carbohydrate.
Says Randall Kaplan, lead author of the study conducted at the University of
Toronto and Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, "We've known for a long time
that glucose can have positive effects on memory in the elderly, but our
findings are novel in that fat and protein were also shown to have
beneficial effects on memory. In contrast to previous studies, these results
indicate that blood sugar does not have to increase for memory to be
The beneficial effects observed by Kaplan and colleagues were strongest on
memory tests and did not lead to a general improvement in brain function.
Further research is needed to determine whether fat and protein exert any
additional unique effects on cognitive function and whether similar effects
are observed in younger subjects.
The improvements in memory observed in this study were for a limited period
of time, and were more prolonged following carbohydrate ingestion than fat
or protein. Some researchers believe that the best approach to preserving
memory over the long-term is to maintain healthy behaviors throughout the
life cycle, such as:
-- Exercising regularly,
-- Maintaining a healthy body weight, and
-- Eating a diet low in saturated fat and high in fiber, fruits and
These behaviors will not only decrease the risk of memory decline and
dementia, but will also reduce the risk of many other chronic diseases
including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and obesity.