We know that nutrition and brain health are inexorably linked. Multiple research studies have clearly shown this to be true. Fruits, vegetables and healthy fats all have a positive impact on cognitive health. But can wine and cheese really be the latest brain-boosting foods to add to that list?
Age-related cognitive decline used to seem inevitable. Then we started to learn that if we ate right, stayed active and took care of ourselves, we could protect our brain function well into old age. Now, a new study out of Iowa State University has reached a somewhat surprising conclusion about food and cognitive health.
The study, featured in an article published in the November 2020 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, backs up the claim that what we eat has a direct impact on our cognitive acuity in older age. But some of the specific foods the study claims as beneficial have raised some eyebrows. Cheese, wine and lamb are high on the Iowa State list of brain-boosting foods.
In the first study of its kind, Auriel Willette, assistant professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Brandon Klinedinst, a Neuroscience PhD candidate working in the Food Science and Human Nutrition department at Iowa State, ran an analysis connecting specific foods to later-in-life cognitive function and acuity.
The research team collected and analyzed data from the United Kingdom’s UK Biobank on 1,787 adults aged 46 to 77 years old. The Biobank is a very large-scale biomedical database and resource for research. The database contains specific and in-depth health and genetic information from more than 500,000 UK participants. It’s made accessible worldwide to approved researchers for important research into the world’s most common diseases and conditions, along with those most life-threatening.
The 1,787 participants took a Fluid Intelligence Test (FIT) on three separate occasions. The baseline tests were administered between 2006 and 2010, with follow-up tests completed between 2012 and 2013 and again between 2015 and 2016. Fluid Intelligence Tests help researchers get an in-time snapshot of a participant’s ability to think “on the fly.”
These participants also answered questions about their food and alcohol consumption during the baseline and both follow-up testing assessments using the Food Frequency Questionnaire. This questionnaire asks about the intake of a broad variety of food and drink, including raw vegetables and salads, fresh fruit, cooked vegetables, oily and lean fish, poultry, pork, beef, lamb, processed meats, cheeses, breads, cereal, coffee and tea, beer, wine (red and white,) champagne, cider and other liquors.
The four major food-related findings from the study are:
- For protection against age-related cognitive decline, cheese shows the greatest impact of all foods studied. This remained true even late into life.
- Daily alcohol consumption, especially red wine, was linked to improvements in cognitive function.
- Consuming lamb weekly was connected to improvement in long-term cognitive acuity and function. This was not true for other red meats.
- Eating too much salt is bad, but only those already at risk for Alzheimer’s Disease need to watch intake to prevent loss of cognitive function as they age.
“I was pleasantly surprised that our results suggest that responsibly eating cheese and drinking red wine daily are not just good for helping us cope with our current COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps also dealing with an increasingly complex world that never seems to slow down,” Willette said. “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.”
Klinedinst added, “Depending on the genetic factors you carry, some individuals seem to be more protected from the effects of Alzheimers, while other seem to be at greater risk. That said, I believe the right food choices can prevent the disease and cognitive decline altogether. Perhaps the silver bullet we’re looking for is upgrading how we eat. Knowing what that entails contributes to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and putting this disease in a reverse trajectory.”
The research team also included members from the Statistics, Veterinary Clinical Sciences and Biomedical Sciences departments at Iowa State, the Statistics department at the University of Virginia and the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University.
The takeaway here would seem to be that enjoying some good food can also be good for you, especially your brain. While it’s wise to enjoy everything in moderation, go ahead and have some delicious cheese and a glass of wine! You may just be smarter because of it in your old age!
Keep the faith and keep after it!
Journal Reference – Brandon S. Klinedinst, Scott T. Le, Brittany Larsen, Colleen Pappas, Nathan J. Hoth, Amy Pollpeter, Qian Wang, Yueying Wang, Shan Yu, Li Wang, Karin Allenspach, Jonathan P. Mochel, David A. Bennett, Auriel A. Willette. Genetic Factors of Alzheimer’s Disease Modulate How Diet is Associated with Long-Term Cognitive Trajectories: A UK Biobank Study. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2020; 78 (3): 1245 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-201058