To keep our memories intact it’s important to exercise and eat a nutritious diet.
But even with the best lifestyle choices, one person may stay razor sharp in their older years, while another isn’t so lucky.
The latest research reveals a reason for this difference depends on an additional factor that scientists say is implicated in the rise of dementia– our genes.
Researchers from King’s College London wanted to see if they could find a molecular basis for the link between lifestyle choices and brain aging in humans. In the process, they made some new genetic findings.
They focused on two areas, the nutrient sensing pathways and neural stem cells (NSCs) in the hippocampus– a key memory area of the brain.
Nutrient sensing pathways are just what the name says: they’re signaling systems that allow cells to detect and respond to levels of nutrients such as sugars, proteins and fats present in the body’s tissues. Based on what nutrient sensing pathways detect, they promote changes in a brain cell’s behavior. Not surprisingly, nutrient sensing pathways are directly affected by diet and exercise.
Researchers believe nutrient sensing pathways are one of the key reasons lifestyle affects memory, and may offer an explanation as to why people’s brains age differently.
Similar to other stem cells in the body, NSCs divide continually to either make other NSCs or to make cells that have specialized brain functions. Their health is critical to maintaining a sharp memory. The researchers found that both lifestyle choices and nutrient sensing pathways affect the health of NSCs.
Three Genes are the Most Influential
To investigate the role of nutrient sensing pathways and lifestyle choices in NSCs, the scientists began by conducting a series of experiments in the lab that mimic the aging process on human hippocampal NSCs. They also looked at the genes expressed during their experiments and which ones were the most important.
Next, they applied their findings to information and genetic data gathered from over 2000 people. This information included memory tests, activity levels, the kind of diet they ate, and their overall calorie intake.
This complex research identified two genes called ABTB1 and GRB10 that influence nutrient sensing pathways and are directly tied to memory health. Researchers linked the first gene to performance on a standard memory task. The research revealed that the second gene is an important link between a Mediterranean diet and a better memory.
In addition, researchers found that exercise played a critical role in memory performance in those participants with certain variants of a third gene called SIRT1.
Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle to Slow Brain Aging
Senior author Chiara de Lucia commented on the findings, “Our study shows that nutrient sensing pathways play an important role in memory and suggests that the ABTB1 and GRB10 genes are likely molecular links for the association between diet, the aging of neural stem cells and our memory ability.
“Identifying these genes as the missing links between these three important variables could inform new approaches to help improve the aging process through targeted changes in diet and exercise and ultimately in developing new drugs in the future.”
Fellow author Sandrine Thuret added, “Our findings suggest that changes in lifestyle may be able to delay a decline in memory and thinking but that the effectiveness of these approaches will depend on the genetic makeup of each person.
“For example, adherence to a diet such as the Mediterranean diet may be most beneficial for people with a specific GRB10 mutation, while increased exercise may be a better approach for participants with specific SIRT1 variations.”
Since none of us know (yet) whether we have variations in these genes, Dr. Thuret opined, “the safest approach is to have a healthy lifestyle. Exercising and eating a diet close to the Mediterranean diet slow down cognitive aging.”