How our insatiable hunger for safeguarding our minds might leave us famished

Fact: mankind, as a species, really cannot cope with change and aging. We live in an era where people are so obsessed with keeping everything in a static state of petrification, that hundreds of articles about how to delay the natural deterioration process crop up every single day. And they’re not just restricted to immortalising fleeting beauty either: most of them concern the inherent decay of our body’s most prized, irreplaceable possession, namely nervous tissue. Finding a way to prevent degenerative diseases has been in the fact-finding spotlight for quite some time, and although some definite genetic susceptibilities have been confirmed, environmental factors still leave more than enough room for copious speculation.

Case in point: Alzheimer’s disease, the dreaded arch-nemesis of researchers everywhere. Basically, this eerie condition is a medical puzzle because, in broad lines, humanity is still in the dark about the exact cause of its onset. Several theories about its development have been put forward and even though the amyloid hypothesis (which links the presence of proteinaceous plaques in the brain with Alzheimer’s disease) seems to be the most plausible one, it leaves a myriad of enigmatic questions still unanswered. Consequently, why not ruminate profoundly on the topic and try linking it to bits and pieces of our daily routines?

So far, there have been both studies claiming that coffee is good for preventing Alzheimer’s disease and that it accelerates its progression. The exact same thing can be said for anything from reading to Sudoku or from vitamin C to medicinal marijuana. However, a newly published study puts forward an even bolder suggestion: starve your body to protect your mind. The National Institute on Aging in Baltimore claims that restricting your food intake to about 500 calories (for instance, a McDonald’s Quarter Ponder with Cheese or a large full-fat chocolate milkshake, if you have a sweet-tooth) for two days each week might have an overall beneficial effect on your brain cells. During the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver (16th-20th February 2012), Professor Mark Mattson, head of the institute’s laboratory of neurosciences, stated that timing plays a key role in the whole process: ‘It is likely to be better to go on intermittent bouts of fasting in which you hardly eat anything at all, and then have periods when you eat as much as you want’. However, his curious claims are backed by the fact that scientists have established that a low-calorie diet seems to be a magic recipe for longer life.

All things considered and as ironic as it may sound, it now appears that gluttony might literally be one of the seven deadly sins. Moderation, or even restriction, is the newly-established cornerstone of a prosperous and healthy ripe old age, sheltering us from the woes of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or any similar incurable ailment. Nevertheless, has our quest for prolonging life made us ignorant of the fact that immortality is still a chimera? As Abraham Lincoln wisely put it, ‘It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years’.


Julie Kanya


Image by the State Library of Queensland