Study finds frontotemporal dementia can result in sugary cravings and unusual eating patterns.

In the first study of its kind, researchers have looked into the different ways frontotemporal dementia (FTD) can affect your eating patterns.

There’s a range of different symptoms of FTD, and they can be largely divided up into the behavioural version, with symptoms such as inappropriate behaviour, loss of inhibition, empathy and ability to plan, and the semantic version, which results in difficulties with language or vocabulary.

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The study, carried out at Neuroscience Research Australia and published in Medscape Medical News, claims that these two types result in different eating styles.

Patients with the behavioural FTD variant were found to excessively overeat, particularly eating very sugary foods, while patients with semantic FTD demonstrated very rigid eating behaviour, sometimes only picking one particular type of food.

In the study, 49 people with three different types of dementia (19 with behavioural FTD, 15 with semantic FTD, and 15 with Alzheimer’s disease) were compared with 25 healthy controls.

All study participants fasted overnight and were then offered an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast and allowed to eat for half an hour. Researchers then recorded food and calorie intake.

Results showed that those with behavioural-type FTD consumed more calories than the other participants, taking in an average of 1344 calories, compared with 710 calories in the Alzheimer's group, 573 calories in the semantic dementia group, and 603 calories in the control group.

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The people with semantic frontotemporal dementia did not overeat but instead showed rigid eating behaviour, often refusing to eat the food on offer, eating very small amounts, or only eating one type of food.

While this research was going on, the brains of the people with FTD were also being monitored through MRI scans. Researchers discovered that complex networks within the brain were activated in those with behavioural FTD including those involved in reward, autonomic function, and vision, rather than just a single brain structure.

Lead study author Rebekah M. Ahmed, says,

‘If we can understand which brain networks are controlling these inappropriate eating behaviours, this may help in the development of treatments for the condition.

‘Metabolic changes occurring in the body may be affecting disease progression, and treating the early behaviours may slow disease progression. Or, it is also possible that the specific eating patterns may have some protective role in FTD. We need to study whether we can modify the eating behaviours and if this makes any difference.’

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