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Carbs, Sugar Linked With Cognitive Impairment Risk In Elderly: Study

10/17/2012 09:06 am ET

In a world filled with nonstop ideas on what people should and should not eat comes a new study highlighting even more dangers associated with carbs and sugar.

A Mayo Clinic study of 1,230 people between the ages of 70 and 89 found that those who eat food high in carbohydrates have nearly four times the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. The danger also rises with a heavy-sugar diet.

At the same time, the study also found that people who consume a lot of protein and fat relative to carbohydrates are less likely to become cognitively impaired.

The research makes clear the importance of a well-rounded diet, says lead author Rosebud Roberts, a Mayo Clinic epidemiologist. “We think it’s important that you eat a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat because each of these nutrients has an important role in the body,” Roberts noted in a statement.

Researchers tracking the eating habits of 1,230 older people found that those reporting the highest carbohydrate intake at the beginning of the study were 1.9 times likelier to develop mild cognitive impairment than those with the lowest intake. Participants with the highest sugar intake were 1.5 times likelier to experience mild cognitive impairment than those with the lowest levels.

Surprisingly, people whose diets were highest in fat -- compared to the lowest -- were 42 percent less likely to face cognitive impairment; and those who had the highest intake of protein had a reduced risk of 21 percent.

When total fat and protein intake were taken into account, people with the highest carbohydrate intake were 3.6 times likelier to develop mild cognitive impairment.

"A high carbohydrate intake could be bad for you because carbohydrates impact your glucose and insulin metabolism," Roberts stated in a press release. "Sugar fuels the brain -- so moderate intake is good. However, high levels of sugar may actually prevent the brain from using the sugar -- similar to what we see with type 2 diabetes."

Sugar and carbs have long been associated with a variety of health issues, everything from cancer to diabetes to depression.

This isn't the first study that's examined the possible causes of cognitive impairment. Researchers from the Karolinska Institute and Karlstad University recently found an association between problems chewing hard foods, like apples, and increased risk of cognitive impairment.

The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.http://www.j-alz.com/

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