Foods for Brain Protection and Cognition
In an older newsletter of mine, titled Is Cheese Good For You?, I examined a study which demonstrated “that incorporating dairy cheese into a high-sodium diet preserves EDD (endothelium-dependent dilation) by decreasing the concentration of superoxide radicals”. (Endothelium refers to cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels.)
Given that the type of cheese used in this study was Gouda, and Gouda is very high in vitamin K2, I went on to examine the idea that vitamin K2 was responsible for the ensuing cardiovascular protection, along with causing the decrease in free radical production (“superoxide radicals”).
As well, in a previous blog titled Wine for Health, I looked at the benefits of red wine for reducing mortality, and benefiting general health.
For example: “Men with wine preference had the lowest total mortality (34% lower) due to lower cardiovascular mortality, and as well, wine preference was associated with better quality of life in old age, based on general health and mental health.”
A new research study from Iowa State University (published in the November 2020 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease) suggests that including more wine and cheese in the diet may help to reduce cognitive decline.
This study is a “first-of-its-kind large scale analysis that connects specific foods to later-in-life cognitive acuity”. The research team analyzed data collected from 1,787 adults, living in the United Kingdom, and ranging in age from 46 to 77. “Participants completed a Fluid Intelligence Test (FIT) as part of a touchscreen questionnaire at baseline (compiled between 2006 and 2010) and then in two follow-up assessments (conducted from 2012 through 2013 and again between 2015 and 2016)."
The subjects also were questioned about their food and alcohol consumption at the beginning of the study, and through two follow-up assessments. Using the “Food Frequency Questionnaire”, participants were asked about their intake of “fresh fruit, dried fruit, raw vegetables and salad, cooked vegetables, oily fish, lean fish, processed meat, poultry, beef, lamb, pork, cheese, bread, cereal, tea and coffee, beer and cider, red wine, white wine and champagne and liquor”.
The most significant findings were as follows:
“Cheese, by far, was shown to be the most protective food against age-related cognitive problems, even late into life.”
“The daily consumption of alcohol, particularly red wine, was related to improvements in cognitive function.”
“Weekly consumption of lamb, but not other red meats, was shown to improve long-term cognitive prowess.”
“Excessive consumption of salt is bad, but only individuals already at risk for Alzheimer's Disease may need to watch their intake to avoid cognitive problems over time.”
The lead author of this study added that, "While we took into account whether this was just due to what well-off people eat and drink, randomized clinical trials are needed to determine if making easy changes in our diet could help our brains in significant ways”. (Study)
Alzheimer’s Disease and Flavonols
In another study, published in the medical journal Neurology, 921 participants (average age 81), who did not have dementia at the time of enrollment, were followed for about 6 years. During that time, 220 participants developed Alzheimer’s dementia.
As with the previous study we looked at, this one sought to determine which foods might reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s dementia. Subjects were recruited from the “Rush Memory and Aging Project, an ongoing community-based cohort of older adults living in the Chicago area” where “each year, participants are asked to complete food frequency questionnaires that assess their past-year intake of 144 food items.”
In their analysis, researchers examined four specific flavonols (which are a type of antioxidant found in most fruits, vegetables, and teas), and how these components might affect our risk of developing Alzheimer’s. “Flavonols are a major class of the family of flavonoids, molecules that have interesting biological activity such as antioxidant, antimicrobial, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, and vasodilatation effects, and they have been considered as potential anticancer agents.” (Source)
The four flavonols examined in this study were:
Kaempferol, found in kale, beans, tea, spinach, and broccoli.
Myricetin, which is in tea, wine, kale, oranges, and tomatoes.
Isorhamnetin, found in pears, olive oil, wine, and tomato sauce.
Quercetin, which is in tomatoes, kale, apples, and tea.
After adjusting for genetic predisposition and lifestyle factors, those with the highest total flavonol intake had a 48% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia, compared to those with the lowest flavonol intake.
More specifically to the individual flavonols:
Alzheimer dementia risk was 51% lower in those with the highest kaempferol intake.
38% lower in those with the highest myricetin intake.
38% lower in those with the highest isorhamnetin intake.
Quercetin was not associated with a lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s dementia.
The lead author of the study had this to say in conclusion: “We suggest eating roughly a serving of green leafy vegetables and other vegetables per day along with a serving of berries a majority of the week. Inclusion of fish [once per] week and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil per week is also going to add to the total number of flavonols.” (Source)
During this holiday season it is good to know that there are ways we can “eat, drink and be merry” in a healthful manner. Such a manner involves choosing good foods, and quality wine, along with remembering the words of the Greek poet Hesiod (c.700 bc): “observe due measure; moderation is best in all things”. Yet, let us also not forget Oscar Wilde’s modification of this saying: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”