Studies Say Diet Can Affect Brain Health
Associated Press/AP Online - July 20, 2004
Eating vegetables like broccoli and
spinach may help older women retain some memory abilities
later on, while avoiding obesity in middle age lowers
the risk of later Alzheimers disease in both
sexes, new studies suggest.
The work mirrors prior evidence that people may help
keep their brains healthy by following standard health
advice, including things like staying active and keeping
cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure under
In fact, one of the new studies found evidence that
obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure
in middle age each added substantially to the risk
of developing Alzheimers or other dementia later
on. Each problem roughly doubled the risk, and study
participants with all three traits ran six times the
risk of somebody without any of them, said researcher
Dr. Miia Kivipelto of the Karolinska Institute in
Kivipelto said the findings are encouraging because
they suggest that lifestyle changes can help many
people reduce their risk of dementia. She spoke in
a telephone interview before presenting the work Monday
in Philadelphia at the Ninth International Conference
on Alzheimers Disease and Related Disorders.
Her study included 1,449 Finns whose body-mass index,
which signals obesity, was calculated when they were
around 50 years old. When examined an average of 21
years later, 61 had developed dementia, mostly Alzheimers.
Results showed the risk of any dementia or Alzheimers
in particular roughly doubled with a BMI of more than
30 (considered obese), cholesterol of more than 250
or a blood pressure reading in which one of the numbers
The effect appeared in both sexes, though the obesity
factor was slightly stronger in women, Kivipelto said.
The findings make sense, commented Deborah Gustafson
of the Medical College of Wisconsin. Gustafson had
reported evidence that women who are overweight in
their 70s had an increased risk of getting Alzheimers,
while the new work extends the finding back into middle
age, she noted.
The other new study found that women in their 60s
who habitually ate more cruciferous and green leafy
vegetables than other women went on to show less overall
decline on a bundle of tests measuring memory, verbal
ability and attention when they were in their 70s.
Such foods include broccoli, cauliflower, romaine
lettuce and spinach.
The federally funded study didnt include men,
but the effect would probably appear in them too,
said Jae Hee Kang, an instructor at Harvards
Brigham and Womens Hospital in Boston who presented
the work. She stressed that the findings need to be
confirmed by further studies.
Researchers focused on drop-offs in abilities like
remembering word lists after 15 minutes, naming as
many animals as possible in one minute, and reciting
a list of numbers backward. A pronounced decline may
Kang and colleagues studied 13,388 nurses participating
in a long-running health study. They compared the
participants questionnaires on long-term eating
habits over a span of 10 years, when they were in
their 60s, to their performance in two test sessions
when they were in their 70s. Researchers noted how
much the scores declined in the two years between
While most women in the study showed some decline,
those who had habitually eaten the most cruciferous
and green leafy vegetables showed less decline than
those who ate the least, Kang said.
"It was almost like they were younger by one
or two years in terms of their cognitive declining,"
Kang said in a telephone interview.
The contrasts appeared between those who ate about
eight servings versus three servings of green leafy
vegetables a week, and those who ate about five servings
versus two servings of cruciferous vegetables a week.
The effect of the vegetables probably comes from the
antioxidants and B vitamins they contain, Kang said.
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