New research suggests that signs of brain ageing can be delayed through higher intake of medium chain fatty acids, such as those found in coconut oil.
In the long term, say the Danish researchers, this opens the possibility of treatment of children suffering from premature ageing and patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
When we get older, defects begin to develop in our nervous system, our brain loses some of its intellectual capacity, and the risk of developing diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s increases. Alzheimer’s disease is currently the fastest-growing age-related disease.
Throughout our lives, it is important that our cells – to the extent possible – keep our DNA undamaged, and, therefore, the cells have a system that repairs the damage that occurs all the time. Humans age when the repair system ceases to function. In diseases such as Alzheimer’s, the researchers also see damage to the DNA
The new research project headed by the Center for Healthy Aging, University of Copenhagen and the National Institute of Health has studied mice having a defect in their DNA repair system. In humans, this defect causes the disorder Cockayne syndrome, where patients prematurely age as children and die at an age of 10-12 years.
In cells from children with Cockayne syndrome, say the researchers, ageing is a result of the cell repair mechanism being constantly active. It eats into the resources and causes the cell to age very quickly.
The study, which used a mouse model of Cockayne syndrome, found that a high-fat diet delayed ageing processes such as impaired hearing and weight loss.
In particular, the researchers saw a positive effect when the animals were given the so-called medium chain fatty acids – e.g. from coconut oil
Food for the brain
Our brain has a constant need for fuel in the form of either sugar or so-called ketones. Ketones are the brain’s fuel reserve, and, in particular, play an important role in periods of low blood sugar levels, e.g. if you are fasting. This is because the body breaks down fat if it needs sugar, and during this process it produces ketones.
“The study is good news for children with Cockayne syndrome, because we do not currently have an effective treatment. 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. The findings therefore potentially imply that patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in the long term may benefit from the new knowledge,” says Professor Vilhelm Bohr from the Center for Healthy Aging, University of Copenhagen and the National Institute of Health, who has headed the study.