Laurence T. Gayao, MD
Because of my work as a physician I interact with a lot of elderly folks and through years I have observed a great amount of variance in mental function with in this age group. I have seen patients in their fifties who have lost cognitive function and are fully dependent on nursing care on the other hand others in their nineties with full cognitive function and living independently. Well a study has shown that eating leafy vegetable each day may keep dementia at bay.
Among the changes that occurs with aging, dementia (decline in memory and cognitive function) is the most feared. It does not matter how successful or how much money you have earned in life once you lose your mental function it is always a tragic situation.
So far there is no known cure or effective treatment for senile dementia once it has set in. The good news is there may be a way to keep it at bay. A study has showed that eating one or two servings of green leafy vegetables such as kale, lettuce or spinach slowed the cognitive decline. At the end of the studies those who eat that much and more vegetables showed their cognitive function was similar to those who were eleven years younger.
The study involved 960 individuals between the ages 55-99, average age 81 years. They where given questionnaires on how often they eat certain foods the over the period of 4.7 years. The researchers estimated the nutrients each of them consumed based on their answers.
At the start of the study participants were tested for memory and cognitive function. This was repeated annually for over 10 years.
There was a significant difference in participants who ate 1.3 servings of leafy vegetables compared to those who ate lesser. The researcher found that the memory and cognitive functions of those who ate that 1.3 servings and more vegetables was comparable to those 11 years younger. This study was done at Rush University and Tuft University.
Dr. Martha Clare Morris, lead author of the study and author of the new book “Diet for the Mind,” said: “The findings suggest this benefit is likely from important nutrients found in these vegetables, such as folate, lutein and nitrate which were also associated with slower mental decline.” The association of greens was strongest with those rich in phylloquinone, lutein, a-tocopherol, nitrate and kaempferol.
Green leafy vegetables are rich in antioxidant nutrients that protect against inflammation and stress causing damage to the brain as been shown in previous studies.
Dr. James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It’s not secret that eating vegetables is good for your health. This study found that eating food rich in vitamin K – like spinach, kale, asparagus and everyone’s favorite, Brussel sprout – appears to slow cognitive decline as people age.”
The over all beneficial effects of a healthy diet are, it keeps the arteries clean, reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, good for the heart and all these are good for the brain. Leafy greens not only rich in nutrients but are also low in fats, sugars, salts and have a high in fiber content.
Other things known to help maintain brain function are regular physical exercise, mentally stimulating activities, not smoking and avoidance of mind altering drugs such as alcohol, anticholinergics (like Benadryl), regular sleeping habits, keeping positive attitude and many others.
Until a treatment or a cure is found for senile dementia, our best bet is to prevent it or delay the process. Don’t wait till you have memory or cognitive problems to do something about it most specially if you have a family history of early dementia.
Remember to be in control of your life, especially during your retirement years and enjoy the fruits of your labor a healthy mind is of prime importance. It has been well said, “The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”