Healthy diet linked to good cognitive performance in old age

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Elderly individuals who consume a healthy diet may be less likely to experience cognitive deficits as they age, study findings suggest.

However, further research is needed to clarify more specific aspects of a healthy diet before any recommendations regarding diet and cognition are made, researchers report in the December issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Nonetheless, the findings point to a modifiable risk factor for impaired mental functioning, according to Dr. M. L. Correa Leite, from the National Research Council in Milan, Italy, and colleagues.

Their study included more than 1600 individuals aged 70 and older, who filled out a food questionnaire and underwent a battery of cognitive function tests. Researchers then calculated nutrient intake and ranked individuals as having normal cognitive function or mild, moderate, or severe cognitive deficits.

A diet that contained a healthy balance of nutrients, including low levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline, the team reports. Moderate drinking was also significantly associated with better mental capacity.

"This finding can be partially explained by the positive correlation between moderate drinking habits and generally good health, but there is also…evidence indicating that light-to-moderate alcohol intake is associated with a decreased risk of ischemic stroke and may benefit cognitive capacities," the researchers explain.

Overall, nearly one-third of the men and almost half of the women in the study had some type of cognitive deficit.

Eur J Clin Nutr 2001;55:1053-1058.

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