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Many people have heard of, or tried, intermittent fasting to try to lose weight. But can fasting help in other ways? Researchers from The University of Melbourne are investigating this thanks to a grant from the Dementia Australia Research Foundation.
Why intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting, or time restricted eating, which involves not eating any food for periods of between 12 and 24 hours between meals, has been shown to have several health benefits.
The study is being led by Dr Alby Elias from The University of Melbourne who said intermittent fasting had been shown to have a range of benefits for several health conditions, including obesity, arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure.
“Intermittent fasting has also been associated with improved blood vessel health and reduced inflammation,” Dr Elias said.
“Animal studies have also demonstrated that intermittent fasting was associated with removal of the beta-amyloid protein from the brain, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. But so far, no human studies have been conducted looking at fasting and Alzheimer’s disease.”
The lack of previous studies is one of the reasons this field of research has been selected to receive the Sarina Navarra Project Grant, funded through the 2023 Dementia Grants Program.
How are they conducting the study?
Dr Elias said the first step was to work with clinicians and people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease to design a trial that was safe and achievable for participants.
“We will then recruit people who are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and measure how intermittent fasting effects memory function, body weight, lipids, blood pressure and biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr Elias said.
“If the results are positive, then hopefully we will see the adoption of intermittent fasting into the healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”
What do we know now about diet and brain health?
We know that maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is important for our brain health.
Isabelle was a carer for her mum who lived with dementia and has taken an interest in looking after her brain health.
“I don’t assume I’ll develop younger onset dementia. But if I can have a healthy brain, regardless of any potential risk, that’s not doing me any damage,” she said.
“Dementia is the leading cause of death for women in Australia. This is something, myself as a young person, needs to be thinking about now as it’s the decisions that I make now in my 20s and 30s which will potentially affect my brain health – whether it be my 40s, 50s, or my 80s.
“I’m trying to learn more about the connection between the brain and the gut microbiome. I’m being conscious of eating an array of different plant sources each week. Focusing on nutrition for the health benefits overall, rather than focusing on physical benefits.”
If you want to learn more about maintaining a healthy brain, check out our Healthy Brain, Healthy Life booklet.
How can you help?
If you would like to be involved in a research project into dementia, you can find all studies that are currently recruiting participants on our website.
The Dementia Australia Research Foundation relies on financial support from generous individuals and organisations committed to investment in dementia research. If you would like to help us to support more research into dementia with projects just like this one, you can donate to dementia research here.
Want to read more about research? Check out these articles:
Why are people in rural and regional communities three to five times more likely to develop dementia? Dr Ashleigh Smith is working to understand - and hopefully reverse - this trend, thanks to a grant from the Dementia Australia Research Foundation.
What is lecanemab? Lecanemab, the new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, has been a big news story recently and in this article, we take a closer look at what it is, if it works and what the big deal is.
How do we fit a large bed through a small door? In this article we spoke to Dr Rebecca Nisbet about the obstacles she’s overcome in her career researching the blood-brain barrier and how she is trying to fit “a large bed through a small door”.
What is it like to take part in dementia research? We spoke to Dementia Advocate Dr Ron Sinclair OAM about his vast experience contributing to research, including his advice to others that everyone has a right to be heard.
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