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King Farm Blog

IKF Blog
Posted: Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Words and walnuts may protect seniors against Alzheimer’s

blog-walnut.jpgCould staving off Alzheimer’s disease be as easy as learning a new word and eating a handful of walnuts every day?

Of course, Alzheimer’s is a complex condition, and your doctor is your best source of information for staying healthy. But researchers are finding more and more evidence that a healthy diet that includes walnuts and keeping your brain active can help protect you from mental decline.

Scientists at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain studied and compared the verbal skills of two groups of people 50 and older. One group had mild cognitive impairment, a condition that often precedes the development of Alzheimer’s. The second group was healthy and showed no signs of diminished mental ability. The researchers used vocabulary tests to measure their verbal abilities and also looked at how long they’d been in school, how much they read and how much mental activity their jobs required.

The researchers used vocabulary as an indicator of what’s termed cognitive reserve—the ability of the brain to compensate for loss of function.

They found that the lower the participants scored on vocabulary tests, the more likely they were to show signs of mild cognitive impairment.

“This led us to the conclusion that a higher level of vocabulary, as a measure of cognitive reserve, can protect against cognitive impairment,” said Cristina Lojo Seoane, author of the study, which was published in Annals of Psychology and widely reviewed in the European press.

Another new study suggests that a diet that includes walnuts may prevent, delay onset or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities had found in a previous cell culture study that walnut extract protected against oxidative damage caused by amyloid beta protein—the main component of the plaques that form in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

The next step was to determine whether eating walnuts would provide similar protection in test animals. The researchers fed mice a diet supplemented with walnuts. The amount the animals received was the equivalent in humans of 1 ounce or 1.5 ounces of walnuts.

The mice that were fed a walnut-enriched diet showed significant improvements in memory and earning skills, the scientists found. They believe that the walnut’s high antioxidant content helped to protect the mice’s brains from oxidative stress and inflammation, which are prominent features of Alzheimer’s. Walnuts are nutritional superstars that contain a significant amount of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to benefit the heart and brain, as well as numerous vitamins and minerals.

“Our study adds to the growing body of research that demonstrates the protective effects of walnuts on cognitive functioning,” said Dr. Abha Chauhan, lead researcher and co-author of the study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. ”These findings are very promising and help lay the groundwork for future human studies on walnuts and Alzheimer’s disease.”

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