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Planting Seeds For Healthy Aging

Diet & Lifestyle Are Key

Eating a plant-rich diet may help lower the risk of cognitive problems and dementia

By John Salak

Yet another reason to increase the amount of plant products consumed. Eating a plant-rich diet may help lower the risk of cognitive problems and dementia in the elderly. 

A European research team out of the University of Barcelona came to this conclusion after examining the dietary habits of almost 1,000 people in the Bordeaux and Dijon regions of France over a 12-year period. Effectively, the research examined the relationship between the metabolism of dietary components, intestinal microbiota, endogenous metabolism and cognitive impairment. 

The results revealed a positive association between metabolites derived from cocoa, coffee, mushrooms and red wine, microbial metabolism of polyphenol-rich foods such as apple, cocoa, green tea, blueberries, oranges or pomegranates and countering cognitive impairment in the elderly. 

“The study of the relationship between cognitive impairment, the metabolism of the microbiota and food and endogenous metabolism is essential to develop preventive and therapeutic strategies that help to take care of our cognitive health,” explained Mercè Pallàs, member of the university’s Institute of Neurosciences. 

Ultimately, the researchers involved stressed that changes in lifestyle and diet are critical to preventing cognitive deterioration and its progression to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other dementias. 

“A higher intake of fruits, vegetables and plant-based foods provides polyphenols and other bioactive compounds that could help reduce the risk of cognitive decline due to aging,” concluded researcher and Barcelona university faculty member Cristina Andrés-Lacueva. 

In another step towards greater understanding of the causes of Alzheimer’s and other related diseases, a team of researchers from several U.S. universities led by Wake Forest and the University of Texas has identified potentially toxic senescent cells in human brains that may accelerate the development of cognitive decline and therefore may be a target for treatment. 

The team’s research centers on senescent cells, which are old, sick cells that cannot properly repair themselves. Unfortunately, they don’t die off as expected and instead function abnormally and ultimately release substances that kill surrounding healthy cells and cause inflammation. This process creates greater problems over time because these cells build up in tissues throughout the body that contributes to the aging process, neurocognitive decline and cancer. 

“However, until now, we didn’t know to what extent senescent cells accumulated in the human brain, and what they actually looked like,” said Miranda Orr, a professor at Wake and one of the study’s lead authors. “It was somewhat like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack except we weren’t sure what the needle looked like.” 

Finding that needle is only a first step in leveraging the research to help find treatments for Alzheimer’s and related diseases. But it is an important first step. “Now that we have identified these cells in the brain, we have opened the door to many possibilities, including treatment options for people with Alzheimer’s,” Orr explained. 




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