Food for thought

4 diet tweaks could fight off cognitive decline

A new study is good news for cheese lovers.

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An increasing number of studies suggest improving one's diet can help preserve the brain's ability to acquire knowledge and understanding.

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One brain function especially altered by age is fluid intelligence.

This is the capacity for abstracting reasoning and problem-solving, independent of background information.

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In a study recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease scientists conducted a first-of-its-kind analysis, linking specific foods to later-in-life cognitive sharpness.

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The team analyzed data collected data from 1,787 adults living in the United Kingdom. At the start of the analysis, the study participants were 46-years-old. By the end, they were 77.

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Data included genetic and health information and surveys covering what the participants ate and drank.

They were also tested on their fluid intelligence throughout the study period. These tests evaluated their ability to "think on the fly."

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While genes put some people more at risk of developing progressive diseases like Alzheimer's, the scientists found that, overall, certain food choices can prevent cognitive decline.

"Perhaps the silver bullet we're looking for is upgrading how we eat," reported co-author, Brandon Klinedinst.

These four findings are especially significant, according to the study authors.

4. Cheese is the most protective food

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Greater cheese consumption was associated with healthier cognitive trajectories, save for when an individual had a family history of cardiovascular disease or Alzheimer's disease.

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This may have to do with the positive effect of calcium and vitamin B12. Lactopeptides, the scientists write, "may improve cognition in older adults" while probiotics may "attenuate depression."

3. Red wine may improve cognitive function

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Make no mistake, drinking alcohol — any amount of alcohol — is associated with elevating your risk of poor health.

That said, this analysis did find a positive link between a daily glass of red wine and better fluid intelligence test scores.

"I was pleasantly surprised that our results suggest that responsibly eating cheese and drinking red wine daily are not just good for helping us cope with our current COVID-19 pandemic... "

— Co-author Auriel Willette, an assistant professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition.

2. Weekly consumption of lamb is good for the brain.

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In the study, no red meat was shown to improve long-term cognitive prowess — except for the weekly eating of lamb.

The scientists note that, while eating red meat is often linked to worse health, "we discovered a unique beneficial relationship among some lamb consumers." This may have to do with the oleic acid in lamb — the same fatty acid found in olive oil.

1. Watch the salt

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Excessive salt can drive high blood pressure, and prior research found a link between salt-rich diets and cognitive decline.

However, this study suggests only people already at risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease should avoid excessive salt. Still, more research is needed to really know the relationship between salt and cognitive problems.

Importantly, this is an observational study — meaning more research is needed to say exactly how and why these food factors affect the brain.

But other studies suggest dietary factors affect multiple brain processes, including the regulation of neurotransmitter pathways.

For more information on living long and living well, click here.

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