Our DNA is damaged every day, but for the most part, our cells are able to repair the damage. As we age, these repair systems slow down, leading to age-related symptoms, such as memory loss, wrinkles, and poor eyesight. 

But some people don't age naturally; instead the process is accelerated by a rare genetic disorder called Cockayne syndrome (CS). Sufferers of this syndrome have a defect in their DNA repair system that causes them to prematurely age, and die at a young age of 10 to 12 years. While there is no cure for CS, Danish scientists have modelled the disease in mice and found that a high-fat diet could postpone ageing processes such as impaired hearing and weight loss in CS patients.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen randomly assigned mice with a defective DNA repair system and normal lab mice to one of four diets - standard diet, high-fat diet, calorie restriction diet, and a standard diet that was supplemented with resveratrol (an antioxidant found in red wine). The team monitored a range of factors, including the metabolism, body weight and body temperature of the mice over a period of eight months, and found that a high-fat diet improved brain function in defective mice.

Interestingly, the defective mice that were on a high-fat diet, weighed the same as the normal mice that were on a standard diet, suggesting an increased metabolism. 

The team also noted that when the defective mice were on a high-fat diet, molecules which boost ketone production, also increased. Ketones are our brain's natural back up fuel, when the body has low blood sugar levels. 

"It [CS] eats into the resources and causes the cell to age very quickly. We therefore hope that a diet with a high content of coconut oil or similar fats will have a beneficial effect, because the brain cells are given extra fuel and thus the strength to repair the damage," said Morten Scheibye-Knudsen, biologist and one of the team, in a press release.

We commonly misconceive the importance of fats in our diet, as many weight-loss diets focus on cutting out fat completely. However, there are different types of fats, and some can give our body the fuel it needs. Unlike saturated fats, medium-chain fatty acids are readily processed by the liver, which leads to greater energy production. The highest concentration of these fats are found in coconut and palm-kernel oils.

The team hope that this study will help children with CS, as they believe that switching these patients to a high-medium chain fatty acid diet could minimise the ageing effects that they experience. 

"Our study suggests that a high-fat diet can postpone ageing processes. A diet high in fat also seems to postpone the ageing of the brain," said Vilhelm Bohr, biologist and one of the team, in the release. "The findings therefore potentially imply that patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease in the long term may benefit from the new knowledge."

The findings are published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Source: The University of Copenhagen