Eating to Protect Your Brain

Cognitive decline in the elderly is emerging as an urgent medical and social problem as their numbers expand. Unfortunately, the resources needed to care for the growing numbers of those with dementia are inadequate and will continue to be an increasing economic burden. Therefore, successful strategies to promote healthy brain ageing are important. Better nutrition is a promising target for intervention efforts to support healthy brain ageing and there is increasing evidence that specific nutrients may aid in the prevention or delay of cognitive decline.

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Recent research suggests that lutein, a pigment found in green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, may aid in healthy brain ageing. It accumulates in the brain and is thought to protect the neuronal membranes that make up the brain tissue. It may aid in optimizing many aspects of brain function such as ion exchange, oxygen diffusion, membrane stability, and may also prevent oxidation and inflammation of brain tissue.

A recently published study examined the relationship between blood serum levels of lutein, volume of specific brain tissue within the temporal cortex, and crystallized intelligence (the ability to retrieve and use information that has been acquired throughout life) in cognitively intact older persons. Although the number of participants in the study was small, the study was well designed. The results showed that higher serum lutein levels were associated with both a larger volume of brain tissue within the temporal cortex and with better performance on tasks specific to crystallized intelligence. The conclusion is that eating more food containing lutein causes more of this substance to accumulate in the brain.  This helps to protect the brain membrane tissue.  The consequence is healthy brain ageing and delay or prevention of cognitive decline.

The Take-Home Message

Focusing on better nutrition is a target strategy for promoting good health and preventing chronic disease. More evidence is showing that lutein, found in green leafy and other yellow and green vegetables, is responsible for protecting brain tissue and preventing cognitive decline.

Sources of lutein: kale, spinach, turnip greens, cress, swisschard, peppers, radicchio, basil, parsley, and celery.

References:

Front. Aging Neurosci., 06 December 2016 https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2016.00297

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