To Your Health: Best Foods To Eat To Fight Cognitive Decline!

Part-time Telluride local, Dr. Alan Safdi, is a world-renowned internist and gastroenterologist with encyclopedic knowledge of mind-body wellness and preventative medicine. He posts regularly on Telluride Inside… and Out under the banner of “To Your Health.” Dr. Alan’s blogs feature the most current information in his fields: health, wellness and longevity.

Links to Dr. Alan’s other podcasts and narratives on COVID-19 and more are here.

For this week, Dr. Alan curated a story about the best foods to eat to fight cognitive decline.

Dr. Alan’s podcast about blueberries is here.

In an ever-aging population, dementia is a growing burden that not only affects individuals but society as a whole. Unfortunately, doctors and patients face a dearth of treatments, with those available mostly ineffective. Consequently, researchers are searching for alternative biological and pharmacologic approaches to stave off and treat this disease.

With dementia on the rise and few effective treatments, researchers are looking to certain foods that could help keep cognition sharp.

Dietary intervention to prevent dementia proffers many benefits. Most effective foods are widely available, cheap, and safe.

Here are four foods that could help prevent cognitive decline.

Blueberries

Many experts consider blueberries a “super fruit” due to their high antioxidant content and various polyphenolic compounds. Chief among these phytochemicals are anthocyanins, which likely contribute most to the cognitive-health benefits of blueberries. Over 20 years, research has supported the multifarious health benefits of this fruit.

“The risk for Alzheimer disease and other dementias is associated with cardiovascular and metabolic health risk biomarkers, including obesity and insulin resistance in midlife,” wrote the authors of a review published in Advances in Nutrition“Inasmuch as anthocyanins are protective against CVD and [type 2 diabetes mellitus] risks, greater anthocyanin intake may be associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer-type dementia in late life.”

The authors also noted, “Among the more important healthful aspects of blueberries are their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions and their beneficial effects on vascular and glucoregulatory function. Blueberry phytochemicals may affect gastrointestinal microflora and contribute to host health. These aspects have implications in degenerative diseases and conditions as well as the aging process.”

The authors cited research indicating that blueberry supplementation in the elderly led to enhanced executive functioning, improved task switching, and better memory.

Leafy greens

Green, leafy vegetables contain various bioactive compounds, including vitamin K, lutein, β-carotene, nitrate, folate, kaempferol, and α-tocopherol. In a prospective study published in Neurology, researchers examined the relationship between leafy green consumption and cognitive decline in 960 adults aged between 58 and 99 years.

After adjusting for various confounding variables, the investigators found that those in the highest quintile of consumption were 11 years younger in cognitive age. And, with the exception of β-carotene, all bioactive compounds tested were individually correlated with slower cognitive decline.

“These nutrients for which green leafy vegetables are a rich source may have independent mechanisms of action that synergistically protect the brain,” the authors wrote. “Serum carotenoid levels were associated with less severe periventricular white matter lesions, particularly in older smokers. In addition, lutein has been shown to reduce phospholipid peroxidation in human erythrocytes, and to attenuate oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction and neuroinflammation. Folate was reported to inhibit tau phosphorylation and APP, PS1, and Aβ protein levels that underlie Alzheimer disease pathogenesis, and to increase methylation potential and DNA methyltransferase activity.”

When you think of vegetables with antioxidants, you might think of leafy greens like spinach or kale. True, both are full of nutrients, including antioxidants.

Besides leafy greens and artichokes, other vegetables found to be good sources of antioxidants are Russet potatoes, red and green chili peppers, red cabbage, red beets, black and green olives, and okra.

Curcumin

Curcumin, also known as turmeric, has long been used as traditional medicine in India and China. It has a wide gamut of pharmacologic and physiologic effects: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, neuroprotective, and chemoprotective properties.

The anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin are due to its inhibition of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) enzymes by means of down-regulation of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB). The inhibition of several inflammatory cytokines also plays a role, including tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a) or interleukin (IL) -1, -2, -6, and -8. For antioxidant effect, curcumin can also scavenge free radicals including reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS).

According to the authors of a review published in Brain Research“Numerous preclinical studies have demonstrated beneficial effects of curcumin on cognition in AD [Alzheimer disease] and non-pathological aging. However, a limited number of human studies was identified, and these results are less consistent than results of preclinical work.”

The researchers added that preliminary evidence from human studies indicates that curcumin may stabilize or prevent cognitive decline, rather than improve it in a healthy population. “Since curcumin is an interesting compound with potential capability of preventing cognitive decline, it is crucial to find ways to bridge this translational gap,” they noted.

Fans of ethnic food rejoice, because curcumin-containing turmeric is not only zesty but also may help you lose weight. Of note, curcumin is the principal bioactive ingredient found in the roots of the turmeric plant.

Researchers examined the metabolic effects of 30 days of bioavailable curcumin supplementation in overweight participants with metabolic syndrome, in a study published in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. Before curcumin exposure, the participants had already been dieting for 30 days, resulting in weight loss of less than 2%. The investigators found that curcumin administration boosted weight loss from 1.88% to 4.91%. Additionally, the participants experienced significant improvements in measures of waistline, hip circumference, and BMI.

Legumes

Although legumes may not be the most popular food choice, at least in this country, they are remarkably good for you. Apparently, the health benefits of legumes may extend to the prevention of dementia.

In a longitudinal study out of Italy, researchers examined the association between food-intake patterns and cognitive decline, as tested in part by the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE). For one year, researchers followed 214 individuals aged 65 years or more with an MMSE score of greater than 20. The authors found that those individuals who ate legumes demonstrated better cognitive performance.

One suggested mechanism for the cognitive benefits of legumes was particularly intriguing. “Legumes and vegetable oils could improve insulin sensitivity, which could, in turn, influence cognitive function. It has been demonstrated that an oral amino acids mixture significantly improves insulin sensitivity in elderly subjects with sarcopenia or type 2 diabetes, probably by an up-regulation of the insulin-receptor synthesis and its autophosphorylation. Insulin activity could, therefore, be enhanced by legumes and vegetable oils consumption.”

Bottom line

Increasingly, evidence shows that “brain-healthy” dietary choices can play a role in slowing cognitive decline. So grab a handful of blueberries, eat a healthy salad topped with legumes, or spice up your cooking with turmeric. What do you have to lose?

Dr. Alan Safdi:

Dr. Alan Safdi is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Gastroenterology and is a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. A proven leader in the healthcare arena, he has been featured on the national program, “Medical Crossfire” and authored or co-authored numerous medical articles and abstracts.

Safdi, a long-time Telluride local, has been involved in grant-based and clinical research for four decades. He is passionate about disease prevention and wellness, not just fixing what has gone wrong.

Dr. Alan is an international lecturer on the subjects of wellness, nutrition and gastroenterology.

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