According to new research, long-term, high nut consumption may be the key to enhanced cognitive health in the elderly.
Researchers from The University of South Australia discovered that eating more than 10 grams of nuts per day was positively associated with better mental performance, including increased thinking, reasoning, and memory, in a study of 4822 Chinese individuals aged 55 and above.
According to UniSA’s Dr Ming Li, the study is the first to demonstrate a link between cognition and nut intake in older Chinese adults, providing crucial insights into the growing mental health challenges (including dementia) that an aging society faces.
Dietary modifications help address aging challenges
“Population aging is one of the most substantial challenges of the twenty-first century. Not only are people living longer, but as they age, they require additional health support which is placing unprecedented pressure on aged care and health services,” Dr Li says.
“In China, this is a massive issue, as the population is aging far more rapidly than almost any other country in the world. “Improved and preventative health care — including dietary modifications — can help address the challenges that an aging population presents.
“By eating more than 10 grams (or two teaspoons) of nuts per day older people could improve their cognitive function by up to 60 percent- compared to those not eating nuts — effectively warding off what would normally be experienced as a natural two-year cognition decline.”
Peanuts have specific anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
China has one of the world’s fastest aging populations. China’s population is expected to reach 1.44 billion in 2029, with the ratio of young to old becoming severely skewed due to the swelling ranks of the elderly. By 2050, 330 million Chinese will be over the age of 65, and 90.4 million will be over the age of 80, making China the world’s old population.
In general, the World Health Organisation predicts that by 2020, the number of individuals aged 60 and more will outweigh children under the age of five.
The UniSA study analyzed nine waves of China Health Nutrition Survey data collected over 22 years, finding that 17 percent of participants were regular consumers of nuts (mostly peanuts). Dr Li says peanuts have specific anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which can alleviate and reduce cognitive decline.
Nuts high in healthy fats, protein, and fibre
“Nuts are known to be high in healthy fats, protein, and fibre with nutritional properties that can lower cholesterol and improve cognitive health,” Dr Li says.
“While there is no cure for age-related cognition decline and neurogenerative disease, variations in what people eat are delivering improvements for older people.”
The World Health Organization estimates that globally, the number of persons living with dementia is 47 million.
By 2030, this is projected to rise to 75 million and by 2050, global dementia cases are estimated to almost triple. China has the largest population of people with dementia.
“As people age, they naturally experience changes to conceptual reasoning, memory, and processing speed. This is all part of the normal aging process,” Dr Li says.
“But age is also the strongest known risk factor for cognitive disease. If we can find ways to help older people retain their cognitive health and independence for longer — even by modifying their diet — then this is absolutely worth the effort.”
Materials provided by the University of South Australia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Ming Li, Z. Shi. A Prospective Association of Nut Consumption with Cognitive Function in Chinese Adults Aged 55 _ China Health and Nutrition Survey. The Journal of nutrition, health & Aging, 2018; 23 (2): 211 DOI: 10.1007/s12603-018-1122-5
The University of South Australia. “A nutty solution for improving brain health: Solutions for an aging population.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 March 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190319100803.htm>.
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