Is memory loss and decreased brain power inevitable as we age? Many people in their 40s, 50s and beyond are told that it is and there is nothing that can be done about it. Is that true? Of course not. Steps can be taken to not only stop memory loss, but also reverse it. Here is a simple step. New research from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that eating just one serving of leafy green vegetables a day takes a decade off an aging brain. Two servings produced even greater effects. I explain how below.
There is considerable evidence that diets that are high in green leafy vegetables; highly-colored vegetables such as carrots, yams, and squash; and flavonoid-rich fruits like citrus, berries, and cherries are associated with prevention of age-related memory decline and Alzheimer’s disease. In particular, two large studies have shown that the consumption of green leafy vegetables, including spinach, kale, collards, and lettuce, had the strongest association with slowing down cognitive decline due to aging.
Exactly which nutrients in green leafy vegetables responsible for this effect is unknown, but it is thought to be the entire payload versus any single nutrient or phytochemical. That said, some studies have shown significant protective effects of individual dietary components against cognitive decline. For example, there are studies that report protective effects against dementia with higher dietary intakes of folate, beta-carotene, lutein, and vitamin K1. However, all of these nutrients have different mechanisms of action in offering protection indicating a synergistic effect is undoubtedly expected.
To increase understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying the association, the researchers at Rush investigated the individual relations to cognitive decline of the primary nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables, including vitamin K1 (phylloquinone), lutein, β-carotene, nitrate, folate, kaempferol, and α-tocopherol.
The study involved the 960 participants of the Memory and Aging Project, ages 58-99 years, who completed a food frequency questionnaire and had ≥2 cognitive assessments over a mean 4.7 years. The data was adjusted for age, sex, education, participation in cognitive activities, physical activities, smoking, and seafood and alcohol consumption. After controlling for these factors, consumption of green leafy vegetables was associated with slower cognitive decline; the decline rate for those in the highest quintile of intake (median 1.3 servings/d) was slower by the equivalent of being 11 years younger in age. Higher intakes of each of the nutrients and bioactives except β-carotene were individually associated with slower cognitive decline.
The conclusion was very clear, consumption of approximately 1 serving per day of green leafy vegetables and foods rich in phylloquinone, lutein, nitrate, folate, α-tocopherol, and kaempferol help to slow cognitive decline with aging.
In addition to diet, nutritional supplements are also important. In particular, a high potency multiple vitamin and mineral formula and 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA (combined) from a quality fish oil should be considered foundational supplements. Research has clearly established that B vitamin supplements and EPA+DHA can help prevent mental decline in older people with memory problems. Furthermore, an international team led by Oxford University has now found that having higher levels of these nutrients can actually give the brain a boost in people with mild cognitive function. In addition, I would also recommend taking coenzyme Q10 with PQQ, phosphatidylserine, and curcumin to help boost brain function in anyone dealing with symptoms of mental decline.
Bennett DA, Dawson-Hughes B, Booth SL, et al. Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline: Prospective study. Neurology. 2018 Jan 16;90(3):e214-e222.