It’s well known that fruits and veggies are good for your bones and muscles, but now a study from researchers in Barcelona suggests that they might also help you ward off dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment.
The research was done by the Biomarkers and Nutritional Food Metabolomics Research Group of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences of the University of Barcelona and the Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red (CIBER) in Madrid. The team was headed by Cristina Andrés-Lacueva, PhD.
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletters!
As the researchers explained, “Diet is considered an important modulator of cognitive decline and dementia, but the available evidence is, however, still fragmented and often inconsistent.”
The research effort, which was part of a larger European initiative called “A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life,” examined data collected over a 12-year period from 842 people in their 70s who were dementia-free and who lived in the Bordeaux and Dijon areas of France. The group was approximately 50% male and 50% female. The researchers collected blood samples at the beginning of the study and subjected these samples to large-scale metabolomics analysis — that is, the blood was analyzed for the number and types of metabolites, which are substances the body uses to break down foods. According to Mireia Urpi-Sardá, PhD., one of the authors, “What we analyzed in the cohorts under study is the modulating role of the diet in the risk of suffering cognitive impairment.”
A higher intake of plant-based foods linked to reduced age-related cognitive decline
The researchers did find connections between certain items in the diet and the risk of cognitive impairment or dementia. As Dr. Urpi-Sardá said, “The results show a significant association between these processes and certain metabolites.” Specifically, metabolites derived from cocoa, coffee, mushrooms, and red wine, as well as foods rich in polyphenols, such as apples, blueberries, oranges, pomegranates, cocoa, and green tea, were found to have a protective association with cognitive impairment in the elderly. On the other hand, blood analysis suggested that some metabolites were connected to the development and progression of cognitive impairment and dementia. According to Dr. Andrés-Lacueva, “2-furoyglycine and 3-methylanthine, which are biomarkers of coffee and cocoa consumption, had a protective profile, while saccharin — derived from the consumption of artificial sweeteners — is associated with a damaging role.”
The researchers also detected an association with a substance called proline betaine and cognitive decline. Proline betaine, they explained, is “a biomarker of citrus intake,” but they speculated “that this observation could be attributed to the consumption of commercial juices rather than raw fruits, considering that correlation analyses between metabolomics and food intake data showed a strong correlation between proline betaine and citrus juice intake, but not with citrus fruit intake.”
“In conclusion,” the authors wrote, “our prospective and validated data suggest that food-related and microbiota-derived metabolites may play an important role in the later development of [cognitive decline].” And, as Dr. Andrés-Lacueva put it, “A higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and plant-based foods provides polyphenols and other bioactive compounds that could help reduce the risk of cognitive decline due to aging.”
Want to learn more about maintaining cognitive health with diabetes? Read “Nine Tips to Keep Your Memory With Diabetes,” “Keeping Your Brain Strong With Diabetes” and “Memory Fitness: How to Get It, How to Keep It.”