Does eating fruit and vegetables help prevent memory loss?

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A recent study looked at whether consuming fruit and vegetables over a long period of time can help to prevent memory loss.

Memory loss can be a normal part of aging. But does diet affect memory loss in older adults? Can eating fruit and vegetables improve memory? A recent study evaluated whether eating fruit and vegetables can help to prevent memory loss and improve brain health. They looked at specifically the impact eating leafy greens, dark red and orange vegetables and berries, as well as drinking orange juice can have on the memory of older people.

Published in Neurology, the study began in 1986. It included 27,842 men with an average age of 51. All the participants were health professionals such as dentists and veterinarians. The researchers looked at the consumption of fruit and vegetables and the impact it had on cognitive function. Over a period of 20 years, the average dietary intake of fruit and vegetables was assessed using five questionnaires.

Each participant filled out the questionnaire at the start of the study about how many servings of fruit and vegetables they had per day. They filled out another questionnaire every four years for 20 years. One cup of fruit or half a cup of fruit juice was considered one serving. One cup of raw vegetables or two cups of leafy greens was considered one serving of vegetables.

The researchers also assessed average cognitive function using two questionnaires at least four years before the end of the study, making the average age of the participants now 73. The assessment was designed to detect any changes that occurred in participant’s abilities to remember things. For example, they were asked “Do you have more trouble than usual remembering a short list of items, such as a shopping list?”Participants were categorized as either good, moderate or poor. Any changes in memory which were reported by the participants were considered precursors to mild cognitive impairment.

Higher intake significantly associated with lower odds of poor cognitive function

The results showed that a higher intake of vegetables and fruits were significantly associated with lower odds of poor cognitive function. Men who consumed more vegetables were 34% less likely to develop poor thinking and memory skills compared to men who ate the least amount of vegetables.

Overall, 55% of the participants had good memory and thinking skills, 38% had moderate skills and 7% had poor memory and thinking skills. Those who ate the highest amount of vegetables averaged six servings per day, compared to only two servings per day for the participants who ate the lowest amount.  Whereas for fruit, an average of three servings per day was the highest amount consumed, compared to half a serving for those with the lowest amount.

Participants who consumed orange juice daily compared to those who had one or less servings of orange juice a month were 47% less likely to have poor cognitive function. Also, eating more fruit and vegetables in the 18 to 22 years before cognitive function was linked to lower odds of poor cognitive function and therefore memory problems.

Long study period strengthens results

An important factor for this study is that the research was conducted over a 20-year period. The long-term nature of the study enabled the researchers to observe very telling results. The results of the study shows a relationship between eating fruits and vegetables and drinking orange juice with memory loss. It does not show that eating fruits and vegetables reduces memory loss. The results support the benefits of eating fruit, vegetables and orange juice to help prevent memory loss and provides evidence that brain health can be maintained through choices in our diet.

References:

  1. Yuan C, Fondell E,Bhushan A, Ascherio A, Okereke O, Grodstein F, Willett W. Long-term intake of vegetables and fruits and subjective cognitive function in US men. Neurology Nov 2018, 10.1212. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000006684.
  2. Orange juice, leafy greens and berries may be tied to decreased memory loss in men. EurekAlert Website https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-11/aaon-ojl111918.php. Accessed November 23, 2018.