Can cheese and wine help reduce cognitive decline? Study suggests it may be possible
Cognitive impairment is when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating or making decisions that affect their everyday life
What we eat may have a direct impact on our cognitive health — the ability to learn, remember, and clearly think — in later years. According to researchers, diet modifications — including more cheese and wine — may help reduce cognitive decline. Cheese, by far, was shown to be the most protective food against age-related cognitive problems, even late into life. The daily consumption of red wine was related to improvements in cognitive function. These are the key findings of an Iowa State University study, which has been published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“I was pleasantly surprised that our results suggest that responsibly eating cheese and drinking red wine daily are not just good for helping us cope with our current Covid-19 pandemic, but perhaps also dealing with an increasingly complex world that never seems to slow down. While we took into account whether this was just due to what well-off people eat and drink, randomized clinical trials are needed to determine if making easy changes in our diet could help our brains in significant ways,” says principal investigator Auriel Willette, an assistant professor in food science and human nutrition, Iowa State University.
According to the National Institute on Aging, brain health refers to how well a person’s brain functions across several areas. It includes cognitive health; motor function or how well you make and control movements, including balance; emotional function or how well one interprets and responds to emotions (both pleasant and unpleasant); and tactile function, that is, how well you feel and respond to sensations of touch, including pressure, pain, and temperature.
“Brain health can be affected by age-related changes in the brain, injuries such as stroke or traumatic brain injury, mood disorders such as depression, substance use disorder or addiction, and diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. While some factors affecting brain health cannot be changed, many lifestyle changes might make a difference,” explain scientists.
Cognitive impairment is when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life. Cognitive impairment ranges from mild to severe. For example, As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, people experience greater memory loss and other cognitive difficulties.
For the current research, the team analyzed data collected from 1,787 aging adults (from 46 to 77 years of age, at the completion of the study) in the UK through the UK Biobank, which is a large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing in-depth genetic and health information from half-a-million UK participants. The database is globally accessible to approved researchers researching the world’s most common and life-threatening diseases.
Participants completed a fluid intelligence test (FIT) as part of a touchscreen questionnaire at baseline (compiled between 2006 and 2010) and then in two follow-up assessments (conducted from 2012 through 2013 and again between 2015 and 2016). The FIT analysis provides an in-time snapshot of an individual’s ability to “think on the fly,” explain authors. “Fluid intelligence (FI) involves abstract problem-solving without prior knowledge. Greater age-related FI decline increases Alzheimer’s disease (AD) risk,” they add.
People also had to answer questions about their food and alcohol consumption at baseline and through two follow-up assessments. The “food frequency questionnaire” asked participants about their intake of fresh fruit, dried fruit, raw vegetables and salad, cooked vegetables, oily fish, lean fish, processed meat, poultry, beef, lamb, pork, cheese, bread, cereal, tea and coffee, beer and cider, red wine, white wine, champagne, and liquor.
Among other findings, the authors found that weekly consumption of lamb, but not other red meats, was shown to improve long-term cognitive prowess. Based on their analysis, they also suggest that excessive consumption of salt is bad, but only individuals already at risk for Alzheimer’s Disease may need to watch their intake to avoid cognitive problems over time. “Modifying meal plans may help minimize cognitive decline. Observations further suggest in risk status-dependent manners that adding cheese and red wine to the diet daily, and lamb on a weekly basis, may also improve long-term cognitive outcomes,” recommend investigators.
According to Brandon Klinedinst, a Neuroscience PhD candidate working in the food science and human nutrition department at Iowa State, depending on the genetic factors one carries, some individuals seem to be more protected from the effects of Alzheimer’s, while others seem to be at greater risk. “That said, I believe the right food choices can prevent the disease and cognitive decline altogether. Perhaps the silver bullet we’re looking for is upgrading how we eat. Knowing what that entails contributes to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s as well as putting this disease in a reverse trajectory,” concludes Klinedinst.