Eating vegetables, fruit and fish may keep people sharp by preventing their brains from shrinking

Healthy diets may keep people sharp, new research suggests.  

People who eat plenty of vegetables, fruit and fish have brain volumes that are on average 2ml greater than those who indulge in sugary drinks, a study found today.

To put that into context, a brain volume reduction of 3.6ml is equivalent to one year of ageing.  

Study author Dr Meike Vernooij, from Erasmus University, Rotterdam, said: ‘People with greater brain volume have been shown in other studies to have better cognitive abilities’.   

Having a healthy diet overall is critical, with no one food group helping to prevent cognitive decline, the research adds.  

People who eat plenty of vegetables and fish have brain volumes that are  2ml greater (stock)

People who eat plenty of vegetables and fish have brain volumes that are  2ml greater (stock)

People who eat plenty of vegetables and fish have brain volumes that are 2ml greater (stock)

IS THERE A DIET THAT PREVENTS DEMENTIA? 

Scientists have created a hybrid diet that is proven to prevent dementia, research suggested in January 2018.

A combination of the Mediterranean way of eating and the so-called low-fat DASH diet maintains at-risk people’s thinking, reasoning and memories, a study found.

Followers of such eating habits, in a diet known as MIND, are required to consume nine foods or drinks regularly, including at least one portion of green leafy vegetables a day, berries twice a week and even a daily glass of wine, the research adds.

It also allows dieters to munch on sweets and pastries, providing they limit themselves to just four times a week, the study found.

When stroke survivors who suffered cognitive decline followed the MIND diet for up to 13 years, their risk of developing dementia significantly reduced, with researchers stressing such eating habits will also benefit the brains of healthy people.

Study author Dr Laurel Cherian, from Rush University, said: ‘The goal is to emphasize foods that will not only lower our risk of heart attacks and stroke, but make our brains as resilient as possible to cognitive decline.’ 

Dementia affects around 850,000 people in the UK, of which up to 80 per cent have Alzheimer’s.

One in eight people over 65 in the US has Alzheimer’s.

The researchers analysed 106 people from the Rush Memory and Aging Project who had suffered a stroke and subsequent cognitive decline, including a reduced ability to think, reason or remember, between 2004 and 2017.

The study’s participants’ eating habits were assessed every year of the trial via food journals.

They were grouped according to how strongly they adhered to the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet.

Such eating habits include aspects of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which is promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to prevent and control hypertension.

The DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meat, whole grains and fish. 

How the research was carried out  

The researchers analysed 4,213 adults with an average age of 66 who did not have dementia.

Questionnaires determined what the participants ate over the past month.

Diet quality was assessed according to Dutch guidelines by focusing on the following foods: vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, dairy, fish, tea, fats, meat, sugary drinks, alcohol and salt. 

The participants’ diets were ranked from zero to 14 in terms of quality.

Diets scoring 14 included plenty of vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains, dairy and fish, with minimal sugary drinks. 

The participants had scans to determine their brain volumes.

‘People with greater brain volume have better cognitive abilities’

Dr Vernooij said: ‘People with greater brain volume have been shown in other studies to have better cognitive abilities, so initiatives that help improve diet quality may be a good strategy to maintain thinking skills in older adults.’  

The researchers stress, however, the participants’ dietary habits were self reported and they were required to remember what they ate over the past month.

They also add the study was only conducted on people living in the Netherlands and may not therefore apply to other populations.  

Dr Vernooij said: ‘More research is needed to confirm these results and to examine the pathways through which diet can affect the brain.’

The findings were published in the journal American Academy of Neurology. 

Two-and-a-half glasses of wine a day cleans the brain 

This comes after research released last February suggested a couple of glasses of wine a day not only clears the mind but cleans it too.

Mice exposed to the equivalent of around two-and-a-half glasses a day are more efficient at removing waste products from the brain that are associated with dementia, a study found.

The animals, who were given a compound of alcohol known as ethanol, also perform as well as ‘teetotal’ rodents on cognitive and motor tests, the research adds.

Lead author Dr Maiken Nedergaard, from the University of Rochester, said: ‘Prolonged intake of excessive amounts of ethanol is known to have adverse effects on the central nervous system.

‘However, in this study we have shown for the first time that low doses of alcohol are potentially beneficial to brain, namely it improves the brain’s ability to remove waste.’

The researchers did not mention whether red or white wine is more effective at ‘cleaning’ the brain but add other types of alcohol, including beer, would likely have the same impact. 

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