Increasing the calories you eat each day may not only have a negative effect on your waistline, it could also be damaging to your memory.

New research from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., revealed that a large caloric intake – between 2,100 and 6,000 calories per day – could potentially double the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in people aged 70 years and older.

“The people we collected for this study - they are functioning independently in the community,” Dr. Yonas Geda, the author of the study and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, told  “ We went to their houses, they didn’t come to the clinic.  So it really represented real people in real life.  We asked people to complete a food frequency questionnaire, and then we did imaging of their brains to get our results.”

To get their results, Geda and his team observed 1,233 people between the ages of 70 and 89 residing in Olmstead County, Minn.  The participants had no history of dementia, but 163 of them had MCI.  Each of them reported the amount of calories they ate or drank each day by filling out a questionnaire.

Ultimately they were all placed into one of three categories: those who ate between 600 and 1,526 calories per day, those who ate between 1,526 and 2,143 per day, and those who ate between 2,143 and 6,000 per day.

Participants in the group with the highest caloric intake had a more than doubled chance of getting MCI compared to those in the group with the lowest caloric intake.  The middle group saw no significant difference.

“Not only did each category show differences, but we also saw a dose-response trend,” Geda said.  “This means that if you keep increasing and increasing caloric intake, then the risk of developing MCI keeps increasing.  So we looked at each category separately, and then we looked at [and observed] a trend overall.”

While the study showed a definitive trend between increase in calories and in MCI, the researchers simply looked at the amount of food each participant consumed and not the types of food that people ate.  But Geda said that was the next step.

“Actually one of my colleagues, Dr. Rosebud Roberts, is looking at [variations in food],” Geda said.  “We also have collected some information on these participants’ physical exercise and so we want to examine exercise washes out these findings, but preliminary data shows that no matter what if you’re caloric intake is high, then your risk is still high.”

Overall, Geda cautioned that people shouldn’t overstretch the findings of his study.  He said that there is a very simple take-away message.

“We don’t recommend starvation or malnutrition,” Geda said.  “Because starvation is a completely separate category, and we didn’t examine that.  We just don’t want people to look at our findings by saying, ‘I’m old, I shouldn’t eat because I’ll get MCI.’”

Geda added, “As you increase with age, the key is moderation.  It may seem like a cliché, but moderation seems to be the order of the day.”