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Healthier Diet with Whole Grains, Fruits, Veg Linked with Bigger Brains

Brains tend to shrink in people who are suffering from dementia and other cognitive diseases, so researchers wonder if lifestyle factors may relate to brain structure. Scientists analyzed the eating habits and brain volume (using MRIs) of more than 4,000 adults without dementia. Eating lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, dairy, and fish, and drinking fewer sugary drinks was linked with larger brain volumes. Healthier diets were also linked with more gray matter, white matter, and hippocampal volume in the brain.
Neurology. 2018 May 16. (Croll PH) [Epub ahead of print.]

Mediterranean-Inspired Diet May Slow Cognitive Decline in Stroke Survivors

Stroke survivors are twice as likely to develop dementia compared to the general population. To see how diet relates to brain health in stroke survivors, researchers analyzed the eating patterns and brain function of 106 stroke survivors for more than 4 years. Those most closely following a “MIND diet” had a slower rate of cognitive decline than those who don’t follow a MIND diet. The MIND diet is a hybrid Mediterranean-DASH diet that emphasizes foods associated with brain health, including whole grains, green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, and fish. The Mediterranean diet is well-known for its brain benefits, so it’s not surprising that this new diet inspired by the Mediterranean diet is also showing promise for brain health. 
Presentation at the American Heart Association Meeting. Los Angeles, California. January 25, 2018. 

Healthy Diet Associated with Less Severe Symptoms in MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves. Because the symptoms and severity vary widely from patient to patient, researchers wonder whether lifestyle changes might help with disease management. In a study of 6,989 patients with multiple sclerosis, those eating a healthy diet (defined as lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and only small amounts of sugars and red/processed meat) were less likely to report having disability and depression. Additionally, an overall healthy lifestyle (based on diet, physical activity, smoking, and weight) was associated with less fatigue, depression, pain and cognitive impairment. 
Neurology. 2018 Jan 2;90(1):e1-e11. (Fitzgerald KC et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Improved Cognitive Performance in Elderly

As global life expectancy grows, dementia is an increasing concern. Healthy eating patterns like the Mediterranean Diet are thought to help decrease the risk of such diseases. Researchers recently analyzed the diets of 1,865 Greek adults over the age of 64 as part of The Hellenic Longitudinal Investigation of Ageing and Diet (HELIAD) study. The researchers concluded that closer adherence to the Mediterranean Diet may be associated with improved cognitive performance—particularly memory—and lower dementia rates. Fish and whole grains in particular were singled out for their association with cognitive benefits.
PLOS One. 2017 August 1. 12(8): e0182048. (Anastasiou CA et al.)

Mediterranean-Based Diets Associated with Better Cognitive Function

Dementia is a serious neurological disease, so preventive measures are an important area of research.  In a study of 5,907 adults, researchers analyzed whether the Mediterranean diet and/or the MIND diet  (a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet, full of “brain-healthy” foods like leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, seafood, poultry, olive oil, and wine) have an effect on cognitive performance. Researchers found that those most closely following the Mediterranean Diet had 35% lower odds of having poor cognitive performance (assessed through tests of memory and attention), when compared to those not following a Mediterranean Diet. Results were similar for the MIND diet, probably because there is so much overlap in these two eating patterns.
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 25 April 2017. [Epub ahead of print.]  (McEvoy CT, et al.)

Healthy Diet Linked with Better Reading Skills in Children

To help set your kids up for academic success, don’t overlook the importance of a healthy diet. Scientists analyzed the eating habits of 161 Finnish children in first grade, then monitored their academic performance in grades 1-3. Kids with healthier diets that emphasized fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, and low fat dairy, had better reading fluency and reading comprehension than those whose diets ranked more poorly. There were no statistically significant differences in math performance related to diet.
European Journal of Nutrition. 2016 Sep 9. [Epub ahead of print] (Haapala EA et al.)

Healthy Diet with Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables May Protect Against Cognitive Decline

Since there is no known cure for cognitive decline, prevention and deceleration of this condition are an important area of research. Most people’s diets change from time to time, so researchers wanted to study how these changes affect cognition. In a study of over 2000 Swedish older adults at least 60 years old, eating a “Western diet” (lots of refined or processed foods, red meats, high fat dairy products, saturated/trans fats, and sugar) was associated with more cognitive decline, whereas eating a more “prudent” diet (a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, rice/pasta, legumes, nuts, fish, and low-fat dairy products) was associated with a deceleration of cognitive decline. However, the most fascinating finding is that every little bit helps. More frequent intake of foods from the “prudent” diet might weaken the negative cognitive effects associated with the Western diet, even if you’re unable to change all your habits.
Alzheimers and Dementia. 2016 Feb;12(2):100-9. (Shakersain B, et al.)

Whole Grains Linked with Less Inflammation and Slower Cognitive Decline in Aging

A “grain brain” seems to be a healthy defense against inflammation and accelerated cognitive decline. In a British study, researchers analyzed the diets, inflammation markers, and cognitive health of over 5,000 middle aged adults over six years. The scientists found that those eating diets high in red and processed meat, peas, legumes (mostly baked beans) and fried food, and lower in whole grains, were more likely to have higher levels of inflammation and accelerated cognitive decline. In fact, whole grains had the strongest link to anti-inflammatory markers among all 37 food groups studied.
Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Jan 29. Pii: S0261-5614(16)00035-2. (Ozawa M et al.)

Whole Grains for Breakfast Linked with Higher Test Scores in Elementary Students

Whole grains are a classic centerpiece to the morning meal for many families, but students may especially benefit from this practice. Researchers collected data from nearly 700 elementary school students in Kansas (average age = 7.5) to see how eating breakfast relates to standardized test scores. They found that while breakfast eaters scored significantly higher in all test areas, what the students ate made a big difference. Greater servings of whole grains were significantly related to higher scores in reading comprehension and fluency and math, while fruit juice was significantly correlated with lower math and reading comprehension and fluency scores.  
Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2015 Dec 23:1-8 [Epub ahead of print] (Ptomey LT et al.)

Carbs (Like Whole Grains) Vital to Early Human Brains

Whole grains are important to our brain health today, but new evidence suggests that they were also vital to our brain development millions of years ago. Researchers in Europe and Australia examined diet’s role in the development of early humans, and found that carbohydrates (such as whole grains, root vegetables, and other starchy plant foods) were “necessary to accommodate the increased metabolic demands of a growing brain.” While most depictions of early human foods emphasize hunter-gatherer diets full of meat, the scientists argue that cooked starches permitted “the acceleration in brain size increase from the Middle Pleistocene onward.”
The Quarterly Review of Biology. 2015 Sept;90(3):251-268. (Hardy K et al.)

Diet with Whole Grains May Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk

It appears that a ‘grain brain’ may be protective against Alzheimer’s. Researchers studied the relationship between eating patterns and Alzheimer’s in 923 retired adults in Chicago over an average of 4.5 years.  The scientists rated participants’ diets based on how closely they adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet (a healthy diet used to treat hypertension that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, and limited sweets and salt) and the MIND diet. The MIND diet is a hybrid Mediterranean-DASH diet that emphasizes foods associated with brain health, including 3 servings per day of whole grains (more than any other food group), along with green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, and fish. The groups most closely following either the MIND diet or the Mediterranean diet cut their risk of Alzheimer’s dementia by more than half (53% for MIND and 54% for Mediterranean), while those closely following the DASH diet were 39% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Even those moderately following the MIND diet were at a 35% lower risk.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia. 2015 Feb 11. pii: S1552-5260(15)00017-5. [Epub ahead of print] (Morris MC et al.)

Whole Grains, Nuts, Legumes Protect Cognitive Function

Scientists at Utah State University and Duke University assessed the cognitive function of 3831 men and women 65 or older over an 11-year period, and compared their cognitive abilities with their diet makeup. They found that higher adherence to both the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet corresponded with higher cognitive abilities, and that “whole grains and nuts and legumes were positively associated with higher cognitive functions and may be core neuroprotective foods common to various healthy plant-centered diets around the globe.”
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013 Nov; 98(5):1263-71. (Wengreen et al.)

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