updated 12/13/2004 5:56:10 PM ET 2004-12-13T22:56:10

A long-term low calorie diet, already reported to extend life span, may also offer protection from Parkinson’s disease — at least in monkeys.

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Rhesus monkeys fed a diet that had 30 percent fewer calories than normal were less affected by a toxin that produces a Parkinson’s-like condition, researchers reported Monday.

Previous studies of similar reductions in food intake have shown that it extends the life span of mice.

The new study, by Mark P. Mattson of the National Institute on Aging, is reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

A team of researchers fed one group of monkeys the low calorie diet for six months, during which they lost about 12 percent of body weight compared to monkeys fed a normal diet.

Then both groups of primates were given a toxin which causes damage similar to Parkinson’s disease, causing the degeneration of dopamine neurons in the brain.

Movement was affected in all monkeys, but the ability to move and speed of movement were greater in the low-calorie monkeys than in those that had been fed normally.

The researchers found that the monkeys on a restricted diet had significantly higher concentrations than normal weight animals of two chemicals that protect nerve cells, BNDF and GNDF.

Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase levels of BNDF in rodents, the researchers noted. GNDF, they said, currently is being given to Parkinson’s patients in clinical trials.

“The present findings suggest the protective effect of reduced-calorie diets may result from the up-regulation of GNDF and BNDF expression,” they wrote.

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