You can help your brain, especially as it ages, by eating and drinking right
A Finnish study involving over 1000 older adults suggests that a counselling program can prevent cognitive decline even among those with the Alzheimer’s gene.
The study involved 1,109 older adults (aged 60-77) of whom 362 were carriers of the APOE4 gene. Some of the participants received regular lifestyle counselling (general health advice), while the rest received “enhanced” lifestyle counselling, involving nutrition counselling, physical and cognitive exercises, and support in managing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Earlier findings from the FINGER (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability) trial showed that the regular lifestyle counselling group had a significantly increased risk of cognitive and functional impairment compared to the group receiving enhanced counselling. This analysis shows that this holds true even for those with the Alzheimer's gene, and indeed, might even be more helpful for carriers of the risky gene.
The findings emphasize the importance of early prevention strategies that target multiple modifiable risk factors simultaneously.
 Solomon A, Turunen H, Ngandu T, Peltonen M, Levälahti E, Helisalmi S, Antikainen R, Bäckman L, Hänninen T, Jula A, et al. Effect of the Apolipoprotein E Genotype on Cognitive Change During a Multidomain Lifestyle Intervention: A Subgroup Analysis of a Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Neurology [Internet]. 2018 ;75(4):462 - 470. Available from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/2670443
A pilot study involving 106 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project who had experienced a stroke followed participants for an average of 5.9 years, testing their cognitive function and monitoring their eating habits using food journals. It was found that those whose diets scored highest on the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet score had substantially slower rates of cognitive decline than those who scored lowest. The estimated effect of the diet remained strong even after taking into account participants' level of education and participation in cognitive and physical activities. Those who instead scored high on the Mediterranean or DASH diets did not show the same slower decline.
Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets have been shown to be protective against coronary artery disease and stroke, but this finding suggests the MIND diet is better for overall brain health.
The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. It has 15 components: 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and five unhealthy groups (red meat, butter, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food).
To adhere to the MIND diet, you need to
The researchers stress that this is a preliminary study, observational only. They are currently seeking participants for a wider, intervention study.
Laurel J. Cherian & Martha Clare Morris: Presentation at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2018 in Los Angeles, January 25.
A small study involving 50 younger adults (18-35; average age 24) has found that those with a higher BMI performed significantly worse on a computerised memory test called the “Treasure Hunt Task”.
The task involved moving food items around complex scenes (e.g., a desert with palm trees), hiding them in various locations, and indicating afterward where and when they had hidden them. The test was designed to disentangle object, location, and temporal order memory, and the ability to integrate those separate bits of information.
Those with higher BMI were poorer at all aspects of this task. There was no difference, however, in reaction times, or time taken at encoding. In other words, they weren't slower, or less careful when they were learning. Analysis of the errors made indicated that the problem was not with spatial memory, but rather with the binding of the various elements into one coherent memory.
The results could suggest that overweight people are less able to vividly relive details of past events. This in turn might make it harder for them to keep track of what they'd eaten, perhaps making overeating more likely.
The 50 participants included 27 with BMI below 25, 24 with BMI 25-30 (overweight), and 8 with BMI over 30 (obese). 72% were female. None were diagnosed diabetics. However, the researchers didn't take other health conditions which often co-occur with obesity, such as hypertension and sleep apnea, into account.
This is a preliminary study only, and further research is needed to validate its findings. However, it's significant in that it adds to growing evidence that the cognitive impairments that accompany obesity are present early in adult life and are not driven by diabetes.
The finding is also consistent with previous research linking obesity with dysfunction of the hippocampus and the frontal lobe.
 Cheke LG, Simons JS, Clayton NS. Higher body mass index is associated with episodic memory deficits in young adults. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology [Internet]. 2015 :1 - 12. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17470218.2015.1099163
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