Study: Vegetables may keep brains young
By LINDSEY TANNER, AP Medical Writer
Mon Oct 23, 2006
CHICAGO - New research on vegetables and aging gives mothers another reason
to say "I told you so." It found that eating vegetables appears to help keep
the brain young and may slow the mental decline sometimes associated with
On measures of mental sharpness, older people who ate more than two servings
of vegetables daily appeared about five years younger at the end of the
six-year study than those who ate few or no vegetables.
The research in almost 2,000 Chicago-area men and women doesn't prove that
vegetables reduce mental decline, but it adds to mounting evidence pointing
in that direction. The findings also echo previous research in women only.
Green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale and collards appeared to be
the most beneficial. The researchers said that may be because they contain
healthy amounts of vitamin E, an antioxidant that is believed to help fight
chemicals produced by the body that can damage cells.
Vegetables generally contain more vitamin E than fruits, which were not
linked with slowed mental decline in the study. Vegetables also are often
eaten with healthy fats such as salad oils, which help the body absorb
vitamin E and other antioxidants, said lead author Martha Clare Morris, a
researcher at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging at Chicago's Rush
University Medical Center.
The fats from healthy oils can help keep cholesterol low and arteries clear,
which both contribute to brain health.
The study was published in this week's issue of the journal Neurology and
funded with grants from the National Institute on Aging.
"This is a sound paper and contributes to our understanding of cognitive
decline," said Dr. Meir Stampfer of Harvard's School of Public Health.
"The findings specific for vegetables and not fruit add further credibility
that this is not simply a marker of a more healthful lifestyle," said
Stampfer, who was not involved in the research.
The research involved 1,946 people aged 65 and older who filled out
questionnaires about their eating habits. A vegetable serving equaled about
a half-cup chopped or one cup if the vegetable was a raw leafy green like
They also had mental function tests three times over about six years; about
60 percent of the study volunteers were black.
The tests included measures of short-term and delayed memory, which asked
these older people to recall elements of a story that had just been read to
them. The participants also were given a flashcard-like exercise using
symbols and numbers.
Overall, people did gradually worse on these tests over time, but those who
ate more than two vegetable servings a day had about 40 percent less mental
decline than those who ate few or no vegetables. Their test results
resembled what would be expected in people about five years younger, Morris
The study also found that people who ate lots of vegetables were more
physically active, adding to evidence that "what's good for your heart is
good for your brain," said neuroscientist Maria Carillo, director of medical
and scientific relations for the Alzheimer's Association.
The study examined mental decline but did not look at whether any of the
study volunteers developed Alzheimer's disease.