Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Diet, exercise, stimulating environment helps old dogs learn


According to conventional wisdom, old dogs and new tricks aren’t a good match. But a new study of beagles finds that regular physical activity, mental stimulation, and a diet rich in antioxidants can help keep aging canine--and perhaps human--brains in tip-top shape. The research, supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is among the first to examine the combined effects of these interventions and suggests that diet and mental exercise may work more effectively in combination than by themselves.

During the two-year longitudinal study, William Milgram, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto, Elizabeth Head, Ph.D., and Carl Cotman, Ph.D., of the University of California, Irvine and their colleagues found older beagles performed better on cognitive tests and were more likely to learn new tasks when they were fed a diet fortified with plenty of fruits, vegetables and vitamins, were exercised at least twice weekly, and were given the opportunity to play with other dogs and a variety of stimulating toys. The study is reported in the January 2005 Neurobiology of Aging.

Dogs are an important model of cognitive aging, and these findings could have important implications for people. Like humans, dogs engage in complex cognitive strategies and have a more complicated brain structure than many other animals. Dogs also process dietary nutrients in ways similar to humans. And like people, dogs are susceptible to age-related declines in learning and memory, and can develop neuropathology similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

"This research brings a note of optimism that there are things that we can do that may significantly improve our cognitive health," says Molly Wagster, Ph.D., program director of the NIA’s Neuropsychology of Aging Branch. "In this case, more was better. Although each factor alone was capable of improving cognitive function in older animals, the combination was additive, pointing to a healthy lifestyle as the most beneficial approach. While we have yet to demonstrate these benefits in people, research such as this gives us new ways to think about the aging brain and what we can do to keep it intact."

For the study, the researchers divided 48 older beagles (ages 7 to 11) into four groups. One group was fed a regular diet and received standard care; a second group received standard care but was fed an antioxidant fortified diet, consisting of standard dog food supplemented with tomatoes, carrot granules, citrus pulp, spinach flakes, the equivalent of 800 IUs of vitamin E, 20 milligrams per kilogram of vitamin C, and two mitochondrial co-factors--lipoic acid and carnitine; the third was fed a regular diet, but their environment was enriched (regular exercise, socialization with other dogs, and access to novel toys); the fourth group received a combination of the antioxidant diet as well as environmental enrichment. In addition, a set of 17 young dogs (ages 1 to 3) were divided into two groups, one fed a regular diet and the other fed the antioxidant fortified diet.

The fruits and vegetables added to the antioxidant fortified diet was the equivalent of increasing intake from 3 servings to 5 or 6 servings daily. Previous research suggests that antioxidants might reduce free radical damage to neurons in the brain, which scientists believe is involved in age-associated learning and memory problems. Mitochondrial co-factors may help neurons function more efficiently, slash free radical production and lead to improvements in brain function. Other studies suggest that stimulating environments improve learning ability, induce beneficial changes in cellular structure, may help the brain grow new neurons, and increase the resistance of neurons to injury.

As the study progressed, researchers tested the dogs with a series of increasingly difficult learning problems, including a task in which the animals needed to learn whether a treat was hidden under a black or white block (black/white discrimination). Later, the treat was hidden under the opposite block so the dogs had to relearn the task (reversal learning).

Overall, older dogs in the combined intervention group did the best on these learning tasks, outperforming dogs in the control group (standard diet, standard care) as well as those that received either the antioxidant diet or environmental enrichment. However, older beagles that received at least one of these interventions also did better than the control group. For instance, all 12 of the older beagles in the combined intervention group were able to solve the reversal learning problem. In comparison, 8 of the 12 dogs that ate the antioxidant diet without environmental enrichment and 8 of the 10 that received environmental enrichment without the antioxidant diet solved the problem. Only two of the eight older dogs in the control group were able to do this task. Dietary intervention in the younger canines had no effect.

"The combination of an antioxidant diet and lots of cognitive stimulation--which was almost the equivalent of going to school every day--really did improve brain function in these animals," says Dr. Head. "We’re excited about these findings because the interventions themselves are relatively simple and might be easily translated into clinical practice for people."

Doug Dollemore | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Innovative technique for shaping light could solve bandwidth crunch

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's MAVEN mission observes ups and downs of water escape from Mars

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>