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3 Foods That May Help Prevent Memory Loss, According to New Harvard Study

3 Foods That May Help Prevent Memory Loss, According to New Harvard Study

Now you just need to remember to eat them!

One in nine Americans over the age of 45 have reported experiencing “cognitive decline,” such as confusion or memory loss. Christopher Taylor, a CDC epidemiologist, said symptoms of confusion and memory loss are not a normal part of aging, which can be shocking to many, as they seem like usual—albeit unwanted—part of growing older in the U.S. However, a 20-year study conducted by Harvard University points to promising signs for prevention. The researchers noted orange juice, leafy greens, and berries as possible ties to preventing memory loss over time in men.

"One of the most important factors in this study is that we were able to research and track such a large group of men over a 20-year period of time, allowing for very telling results," said study author Changzheng Yuan, ScD, of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. "Our studies provide further evidence dietary choices can be important to maintain your brain health."

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This study researched almost 23,000 male health professionals with an average starting age of 51. Participants initially tracked their daily intake of fruits and vegetables, and then tracked them again every four years. One serving of fruit was considered to be one cup of whole fruit, or one-half cup of fruit juice. One serving of vegetables was considered to be one cup of raw vegetables, or two cups of leafy greens.

The participants were also required to take subjective thinking and memory skills tests. The tests served to detect any changes in memory, and any changes would be considered precursors to mild cognitive impairment. 55 percent of participants ended the study with good thinking and memory skills after 20 years, while 38 percent had moderate skills, and 7 percent had poor skills.

The participants were divided into five groups, based on their fruit and vegetable intake. The group with the highest consumption of vegetables ate six servings per day, while the group with the lowest only ate two. The group with the highest level of fruit consumption ate three servings per day, while the lowest group only ate half a serving each day.

Looking for tasty ways to eat more produce?

Those who consumed the most vegetables were 34 percent less likely to develop poor thinking skills than the men with the lowest recorded vegetable intake. The men who routinely ate the most fruit showed to also have a lower risk of developing poor thinking skills, but the association was weakened after researchers adjusted for other dietary factors in the study. Interestingly enough, the participants who drank a glass of orange juice every day were 47 percent less likely to develop poor thinking skills than infrequent orange juice drinkers (those who drank one or fewer glasses per month).

Researchers also discovered that those who ate more fruits and vegetables when the study began were less likely to develop thinking and memory problems over the 20-year period. While the study did not test participants for cognitive ability before conducting research, they believe all participants began the study with relatively high cognitive function, as each participant experienced professional training to become medical doctors.

Besides leafy greens, berries, and orange juice, researchers also included dark orange and red vegetables as part of potential cognition defenders. It’s easy to incorporate these foods daily through making salads or smoothies, adding berries to your morning oatmeal, or placing your lunch or dinner on a bed of greens.


Foods linked to better brainpower

Just as there is no magic pill to prevent cognitive decline, no single almighty brain food can ensure a sharp brain as you age. Nutritionists emphasize that the most important strategy is to follow a healthy dietary pattern that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Try to get protein from plant sources and fish and choose healthy fats, such as olive oil or canola, rather than saturated fats.

Research shows that the best brain foods are the same ones that protect your heart and blood vessels, including the following:

  • Green, leafy vegetables. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Research suggests these plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline.
  • Fatty fish. Fatty fish are abundant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy unsaturated fats that have been linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid—the protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. Try to eat fish at least twice a week, but choose varieties that are low in mercury, such as salmon, cod, canned light tuna, and pollack. If you're not a fan of fish, ask your doctor about taking an omega-3 supplement, or choose terrestrial omega-3 sources such as flaxseeds, avocados, and walnuts.
  • Berries. Flavonoids, the natural plant pigments that give berries their brilliant hues, also help improve memory, research shows. A study done by researchers at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital found that women who consumed two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week delayed memory decline by up to two-and-a-half years.
  • Tea and coffee. The caffeine in your morning cup of coffee or tea might offer more than just a short-term concentration boost. In a 2014 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, participants with higher caffeine consumption scored better on tests of mental function. Caffeine might also help solidify new memories, according to other research. Investigators at Johns Hopkins University asked participants to study a series of images and then take either a placebo or a 200-milligram caffeine tablet. More members of the caffeine group were able to correctly identify the images on the following day.
  • Walnuts. Nuts are excellent sources of protein and healthy fats, and one type of nut in particular might also improve memory. A 2015 study from UCLA linked higher walnut consumption to improved cognitive test scores. Walnuts are high in a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Diets rich in ALA and other omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to lower blood pressure and cleaner arteries. That's good for both the heart and brain.

For more on staying sharp as you age, read A Guide to Cognitive Fitness, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Image: champja/Getty Images


You'll need a salad, one other vegetable, and three servings of whole grains every day. Any vegetable will do, but collard greens, kale, and spinach are especially good. Though there's little research on brain function and grains, part of the science behind the MIND diet may include how the foods work together. Researchers are still trying to figure out why it works so well.


5 Foods That Are Hurting Your Brain

Forget your waistline for a sec&mdashsome of your food choices could actually affect your memory and cognitive abilities. Here, 5 foods to go easy on if you want to keep your wits about you. (Boost your memory and age-proof your mind with these natural solutions.)

Sodium
While the debate about its effects on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease rages on, a study found that high levels of sodium intake paired with low levels of physical activity had a negative impact on cognitive abilities. For the study, Canadian researchers followed the physical activity and sodium consumption of 1262 participants, ages 67 to 84. The participants were placed into three groups: low-, mid-, and high-sodium intake. The most significant changes were seen in participants with low physical activity levels people with lower sodium intake paired with lower physical activity levels showed slower cognitive decline than participants with high sodium levels and low physical activity. Happily, this is a reversible curse: The study, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, discovered that regular exercise can counteract sodium&rsquos negative effects on the brain, as well as the cardiovascular system.

Trans Fats
One more reason to rejoice over the FDA&rsquos trans fats ban: The stuff could hurt your memory. A study published in the journal PLoS One found that consuming more trans fat was associated with difficulty remembering words&mdashand we&rsquore not talking tip-of-the-tongue mistakes. The study followed 1018 participants and their consumption of trans fats, ranging from 3.8 grams per day to 27.7 grams per day. They were asked to complete a task that forced them to identify new versus recurring words in a series. For each gram of daily trans fats consumed, participants recalled an estimated 0.76 fewer words. That means study participants who consumed the highest amount of trans fats per day recalled 65 words correctly, while the average participant recalled 86 words.

Saturated Fat
Another study, albeit one in rats, contributes to the idea that butter is not in fact back. Researchers at the University of Montreal found that rat diets high in saturated fat (when 50% of all calories come from an unhealthy fat, like palm oil or butter) impaired the functioning of their brain&rsquos mesolimbic dopamine system&mdashaka the part that controls motivation and wellbeing, and is often implicated in mood disorders, drug addiction, and overeating. Diets high in monounsaturated fat, like olive oil, didn't show the same association. The study, published in the journal Neuropharmacology, also found that saturated fats dulled the animals&rsquo reward system, spurring them to overeat to compensate for feeling unsatisfied.


Fermented Foods

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"Our brain and gut are intimately connected. Serotonin, the 'happiness' hormone, is actually produced by bacteria in our gut. If the gut microbiome gets unbalanced by inflammation or a poor diet, it has a direct impact on the neurotransmitters that are produced by the brain and can contribute to Alzheimer's, dementia, and other cognitive conditions. A growing body of research has shown that fermented foods improve brain function because of this impact on the production of neurotransmitters. Fermented or probiotic foods include kombucha, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Foods high in fiber can also promote a healthy gut, and that includes vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains," says Schaub.


Foods That Fight Alzheimer's Disease

April 12, 2010 -- A low-fat diet with a lot of salad dressing, nuts, poultry, and certain fruits and vegetables may help prevent Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study.

Researchers say evidence is mounting on which foods may prevent Alzheimer's disease. But because foods are not eaten in isolation and may work together to prevent disease, more information is needed on dietary patterns that reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

In the study, published in the Archives of Neurology, researchers analyzed the dietary patterns of 2,148 people aged 65 and older living in New York. The participants gave information about their diets and were evaluated for signs of Alzheimer's disease and dementia every year and a half over a four-year period.

Researchers analyzed dietary intake for seven nutrients that have been shown in previous studies to be associated with dementia risk: saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin B12, and folate.

By the end of the study, 253 participants developed Alzheimer's disease. In particular, the study showed one particular dietary pattern was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. The diet included low amounts of high-fat dairy products, red meat, organ meat, and butter. Foods in this diet that appeared to fight Alzheimer's disease were salad dressing, nuts, fish, poultry, tomatoes, fruits, and cruciferous and dark and green vegetables.

Continued

Researchers say the combination of nutrients and foods in this particular dietary pattern may fight Alzheimer's in a variety of ways.

"For example, vitamin B12 and folate are homocysteine-related vitamins that may have an impact on Alzheimer's disease via their ability of reducing circulating homocysteine levels, vitamin E might prevent Alzheimer's disease via its strong antioxidant effect, and fatty acids may be related to dementia and cognitive function through atherosclerosis, thrombosis, or inflammation via an effect on brain development and membrane functioning or via accumulation of beta-amyloid," write researcher Yian Gu, PhD, of Columbia University and colleagues.


Whole grains

Tom Perkins

Whole grains are a key component of the MIND diet. It recommends at least three servings a day.

istockphoto

The MIND diet study found eating fish at least once a week helps protect brain function. However, there's no need to go overboard unlike the Mediterranean diet, which recommends eating fish almost every day, the MIND diet says once a week is enough.


12 foods to boost brain function

The foods we eat can have a big impact on the structure and health of our brains. Eating a brain-boosting diet can support both short- and long-term brain function.

The brain is an energy-intensive organ, using around 20 percent of the body’s calories , so it needs plenty of good fuel to maintain concentration throughout the day.

The brain also requires certain nutrients to stay healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, help build and repair brain cells, and antioxidants reduce cellular stress and inflammation, which are linked to brain aging and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

This article explores the scientific evidence behind 12 of the best brain foods.

Share on Pinterest Oily fish contains omega-3 that can help boost brain health.

Oily fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help build membranes around each cell in the body, including the brain cells. They can, therefore, improve the structure of brain cells called neurons.

A 2017 study found that people with high levels of omega-3s had increased blood flow in the brain. The researchers also identified a connection between omega-3 levels and better cognition, or thinking abilities.

These results suggest that eating foods rich in omega-3s, such as oily fish, may boost brain function.

Examples of oily fish that contain high levels of omega-3s include:

People can also get omega-3s from soybeans, nuts, flaxseed, and other seeds.

Dark chocolate contains cocoa, also known as cacao. Cacao contains flavonoids, a type of antioxidant.

Antioxidants are especially important for brain health, as the brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which contributes to age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases.

Cacao flavonoids seem to be good for the brain. According to a 2013 review , they may encourage neuron and blood vessel growth in parts of the brain involved in memory and learning. They may also stimulate blood flow in the brain.

Some research also suggests that the flavonoid component of chocolate may reverse memory problems in snails. Scientists have yet to test this in humans.

However, a 2018 study in humans also supports the brain-boosting effects of dark chocolate. The researchers used imaging methods to look at activity in the brain after participants ate chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao.

The researchers concluded that eating this type of dark chocolate may improve brain plasticity, which is crucial for learning, and may also provide other brain-related benefits.

Like dark chocolate, many berries contain flavonoid antioxidants. Research suggests that these may make the berries good food for the brain.

Antioxidants help by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. The antioxidants in berries include anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin, and quercetin.

A 2014 review notes that the antioxidant compounds in berries have many positive effects on the brain, including:

  • improving communication between brain cells
  • reducing inflammation throughout the body
  • increasing plasticity, which helps brain cells form new connections, boosting learning and memory
  • reducing or delaying age-related neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline

Antioxidant-rich berries that can boot brain health include:

Eating more nuts and seeds may be good for the brain, as these foods contain omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

A 2014 study found that a higher overall nut intake was linked to better brain function in older age.

Nuts and seeds are also rich sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which protects cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals.

As a person ages, their brain may be exposed to this form of oxidative stress, and vitamin E may therefore support brain health in older age.

A 2014 review found that vitamin E may also contribute to improved cognition and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The nuts and seeds with the highest amounts of vitamin E include:

Fully exploring vitamin E’s effects on the brain will require further research.


3 Foods That May Help Prevent Memory Loss, According to New Harvard Study - Recipes

Newly published research suggests that a specific diet called the MIND diet may reduce the incidence of brain disease that increases a person’s risk in developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The recent study shows that the MIND diet lowered the risk of Alzheimer's by as much as 53 percent in participants who adhered to the diet rigorously, and by about 35 percent in those who followed it moderately well according to a paper published online on March 19 in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Developed by Martha Clare Morris, PhD, a Rush nutritional epidemiologist and her colleagues, the MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both diets have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, like hypertension, heart attack and stroke. Some researchers have found that the two older diets provide protection against dementia as well.

The MIND diet is also easier to follow than, say, the Mediterranean diet, which calls for daily consumption of fish and three to four daily servings of each of fruits and vegetables, Morris said.

What's brain-healthy, what's not?

The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups:”

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Other vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Berries
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil
  • Wine

The five unhealthy groups are:

  • Red meats
  • Butter and stick margarine
  • Cheese
  • Pastries and sweets
  • Fried or fast food

The MIND diet includes at least three servings of whole grains, a salad and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine. It also involves snacking most days on nuts and eating beans every other day or so, poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week. Dieters must limit eating the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three), to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of Alzheimer's, according to the study.

Blueberries are 'potent'

Berries are the only fruit specifically included in the MIND diet. “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” Morris said, and strawberries have also performed well in past studies of the effect of food on cognitive function.

“One of the more exciting things about this is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD,” said Morris. “I think that will motivate people.”

Morris and her colleagues developed the MIND diet based on information that has accrued from years’ worth of past research about what foods and nutrients have good, and bad, effects on the functioning of the brain over time. This is the first study to related the MIND diet to Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer's disease, which takes a devastating toll on cognitive function, is not unlike heart disease in that there appear to be “many factors that play into who gets the disease,” including behavioral, environmental and genetic components, Morris said.

“With late-onset AD, with the older group of people, genetic risk factors are a small piece of the picture,” she said. Past studies have yielded evidence that suggests that what we eat may play a significant role in determining who gets AD and who doesn’t,” Morris said.

When the researchers in the new study left out of the analyses those participants who changed their diets somewhere along the line — say, on a doctor’s orders after a stroke — they found that “the association became stronger between the MIND diet and (favorable) outcomes” in terms of Alzheimer's disease, Morris said. “That probably means that people who eat this diet consistently over the years get the best protection.”

In other words, it looks like the longer a person eats the MIND diet, the less risk that person will have of developing Alzheimer's, Morris said. As is the case with many health-related habits, including physical exercise, she said, “You’ll be healthier if you’ve been doing the right thing for a long time.”

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging. All the researchers on this study were from Rush except for Frank M. Sacks MD, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention, Department of Nutrition, at the Harvard School of Public Health. Sacks chaired the committee that developed the DASH diet.


3 Foods That May Help Prevent Memory Loss, According to New Harvard Study - Recipes

A new diet, appropriately known by the acronym MIND, could significantly lower a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, even if the diet is not meticulously followed, according to a paper published online for subscribers in March in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Rush nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, ScD, and colleagues developed the “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” (MIND) diet. The study shows that the MIND diet lowered the risk of AD by as much as 53 percent in participants who adhered to the diet rigorously, and by about 35 percent in those who followed it moderately well.

“One of the more exciting things about this is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD,” said Morris, a Rush professor, assistant provost for Community Research, and director of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology. “I think that will motivate people.”

Morris and her colleagues developed the MIND diet based on information that has accrued from years’ worth of past research about what foods and nutrients have good, and bad, effects on the functioning of the brain over time. This is the first study to relate the MIND diet to Alzheimer’s disease.

“I was so very pleased to see the outcome we got from the new diet,” she said.

The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, like hypertension, heart attack and stroke. Some researchers have found that the two older diets provide protection against dementia as well.

In the latest study, the MIND diet was compared with the two other diets. People with high adherence to the DASH and Mediterranean diets also had reductions in AD — 39 percent with the DASH diet and 54 percent with the Mediterranean diet — but got negligible benefits from moderate adherence to either of the two other diets.

The MIND diet is also easier to follow than, say, the Mediterranean diet, which calls for daily consumption of fish and three to four daily servings of each of fruits and vegetables, Morris said.

The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups” — green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine — and five unhealthy groups that comprise red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

The MIND diet includes at least three servings of whole grains, a salad and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine. It also involves snacking most days on nuts and eating beans every other day or so, poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week. Dieters must limit eating the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three), to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of Alzheimer's, according to the study.

Berries are the only fruit specifically to make the MIND diet. “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” Morris said, and strawberries have also performed well in past studies of the effect of food on cognitive function.

The MIND diet was not an intervention in this study, however researchers looked at what people were already eating. Participants earned points if they ate brain-healthy foods frequently and avoided unhealthy foods. The one exception was that participants got one point if they said olive oil was the primary oil used in their homes.

The study enlisted volunteers already participating in the ongoing Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP), which began in 1997 among residents of Chicago-area retirement communities and senior public housing complexes. An optional “food frequency questionnaire” was added from 2004 to February 2013, and the MIND diet study looked at results for 923 volunteers. A total of 144 cases of AD developed in this cohort.

AD, which takes a devastating toll on cognitive function, is not unlike heart disease in that there appear to be “many factors that play into who gets the disease,” including behavioral, environmental and genetic components, Dr. Morris said.

“With late-onset AD, with that older group of people, genetic risk factors are a small piece of the picture,” she said. Past studies have yielded evidence that suggests that what we eat may play a significant role in determining who gets AD and who doesn’t, Morris said.

When the researchers in the new study left out of the analyses those participants who changed their diets somewhere along the line — say, on a doctor’s orders after a stroke — they found that “the association became stronger between the MIND diet and [favorable] outcomes” in terms of AD, Morris said. “That probably means that people who eat this diet consistently over the years get the best protection.”

In other words, it looks like the longer a person eats the MIND diet, the less risk that person will have of developing AD, Morris said. As is the case with many health-related habits, including physical exercise, she said, “You’ll be healthier if you’ve been doing the right thing for a long time.”

Morris said, “We devised a diet and it worked in this Chicago study. The results need to be confirmed by other investigators in different populations and also through randomized trials.” That is the best way to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the MIND diet and reductions in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, she said.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging. All the researchers on this study were from Rush except for Frank M. Sacks MD, professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, Department of Nutrition, at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Sacks chaired the committee that developed the DASH diet.