A new study suggests that overeating in older people may double their risk for mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a term that describes the stage between the memory loss that normally comes with aging and that seen in early Alzheimer’s disease. The study, announced in a press release on Sunday, is to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s (AAN’s) 64th Annual Meeting in New Orleans April 21 to April 28 and has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

For the study, Dr Yonas E Geda, from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, and colleagues examined data on 1,233 dementia-free adults aged 70 to 89 living in Olmsted County, Minnesota. Of those, 163 had MCI.

They found that consuming between 2,100 and 6,000 calories per day was linked to double the risk for MCI.

Geda, who is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, told the press:

“We observed a dose-response pattern which simply means; the higher the amount of calories consumed each day, the higher the risk of MCI.”

“Cutting calories and eating foods that make up a healthy diet may be a simpler way to prevent memory loss as we age,” said Geda.

The researchers obtained the participants’ daily calorie consumption from questionnaires they had filled in that included questions about their food and drink consumption.

They ranked the results into three groups where one-third of participants consumed between 600 and 1,526 calories a day, another third consumed 1,526 to 2,143, and the remaining third between 2,143 and 6,000 calories per day.

They found that for the highest calorie consumers, the odds for having MCI was more than double that of the lowest calorie consumers.

But there was no significant difference in risk between the lowest calorie group and the middle group.

The figures didn’t change when they accounted for other risk factors for memory loss, including history of stroke, diabetes, and years of education.

Funds from the National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Robert H. and Clarice Smith and Abigail van Buren Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program helped pay for the study.

Geda recently co-authored a paper published in January 2012 in the AAN’s journal Neurology that found incidence rates for MCI varied substantially by subgroups, and were higher in men. That study also drew its data from a cohort of Olmsted County residents.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD