Along with keeping your mind active as you age, taking supplements for brain health, and getting exercise, we can now add healthy eating–and cereal—to the list.
A longitudinal study published last month in the International Journal of Public Health followed a group of adults over the age of 45 to explore how food groups affect memory loss. The study also investigated if there was a correlation between memory loss and other disease processes (called comorbidities—think: causes morbidity in addition to the underlying or primary disease). Specifically, the study looked into memory loss alongside heart disease and Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
To no one’s surprise, a diet rich in protein, vegetables, and fruit was protective of memory loss. A healthy diet also reduced the risk of comorbid heart disease, logically. One of the surprising facts gathered from the study was that the consumption of cereals was also associated with protecting seniors from memory loss.
Seniors, 80 years old and older, who consumed very little cereals had the highest association and incidence of memory loss and comorbid heart disease. What could be the reason behind this?
Cereals are grains; but there are many more cereals available beyond what you think of as a traditional cereal that you’d normally find on a breakfast table. True cereal grains consist of members of the botanical family Poaceae and include commonly known grains like oats, wheat, corn, rice (commonly associated with breakfast cereals); but also includes lesser known grains like millet, barley, rye, and sorghum. Within the wheat family, ancient varieties like spelt, farro, emmer, and freekeh are also classified. The new grain triticale (a mixture of wheat and rye) can also be found in the true cereal family.
The neuroprotective effects of cereal grains have been studied before. In 2008, a study focused on wheat bran extract in elderly adults with age-related cognitive impairment. Adults, aged 50-80 years old, were given either a placebo extract or wheat bran extract for 3 months and took several tests on memory, stress, and cognition.
The participants that received the extract of wheat bran scored higher in visual learning and faster reaction times during memory tests, demonstrating that even a short period of supplementation with wheat bran improved cognitive function and visual memory.
It’s likely that the vitamins and minerals contained in the grains led to these neuroprotective effects, as well as the high levels of polyphenols contained within them. Polyphenols are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, teas, wine, bark, and roots. They are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties, their status as antioxidants, and they also reduce the amount of cellular death.
In the longitudinal study, the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and grains likely had a cumulative, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effect on the participants’ brains. This led to an overall improvement in cognition. Eating well is definitely a key to helping fight memory loss as you age.
Xiaoyue Xu, Mabel Ling, Sally C. Inglis, Louise Hickman, Deborah Parker. Eating and healthy ageing: a longitudinal study on the association between food consumption, memory loss and its comorbidities. International Journal of Public Health, 2020; DOI: 10.1007/s00038-020-01337-y
Eun-Kyung Choi, Jongwon Lee, Soo-Hyun Park, Eun-Soo Jung, Sun Ha Lim, Jung-Hee Jang, Soo-Wan Chae and Myoung-Hwan Ko, 2018. Wheat Bran Improves Cognition in Older Adults with Memory Impairment: A Randomized Controlled Trial. International Journal of Pharmacology, 14: 922-928.
“Types of Grains.” Graines & Legumes Nutrition Council, https://www.glnc.org.au/grains/types-of-grains/.