Neuroscientists in the US have found that restricting the amount of calories we eat isn't just good for weight loss, it may also help to slow down neurological ageing.
A new study by researchers from the NYU Langone Medical Centre has found that female mice that eat 30 percent fewer calories have less activity in almost 900 different genes linked to memory formation and ageing in the brain.
Their findings, which were presented this week at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington DC, suggest that diets that reduce the number of calories consumed can deter some genetic aspects of ageing in mammals - including humans.
"Our study shows how calorie restriction practically arrests gene expression levels involved in the ageing phenotype - how some genes determine the behaviour of mice, people, and other mammals as they get old," said the lead researcher, neuroscientist Stephen D. Ginsberg, in a press release.
Of course, this doesn't mean that calorie restriction is a "fountain of youth", Ginsberg cautioned, but it does "add evidence for the role of diet in delaying the effects of ageing and age-related disease."
The idea that eating less can extend life is nothing new - restrictive diets have been shown for decades to prolong the longevity of mammals. It's also been suggested that eating fewer calories could help reduce the risk of heart disease, hypertension and stroke in humans.
But until now there have been very few studies done on the impact eating has on our genes, and so it's poorly understood what mechanisms could be at work.
In this research, Ginsberg and his team took a group of female mice - females are more prone to dementia than males - and fed them food pellets that contained 30 percent less calories than those fed to other mice.
They then analysed the tissue from the hippocampal region of their brain, the area which is the earliest to be affected by Alzheimer's disease, either in middle age or late adulthood. In this tissue, they looked at the changes in the levels of more than 10,000 genes found in the brain as the mice aged.
What they found was that the mice that had eaten fewer calories didn't experience the normal rise and fall of almost 900 of these genes - all of which were formed to ageing and memory formation.
This work is still in the very early stages, and scientists will need to work out exactly how calorie restriction influences these genes and that the impact of that on the body is. But Ginsberg explained in the release that the research: "Widens the door to further study into calorie restriction and anti-ageing genetics."
In the meantime, remember that we also need calories to survive, so don't go cutting back on your food intake just yet. But it's worth bearing in mind that what we eat definitely does affect the activity of our genes in ways we can't quite understand as yet.