Everyone knows the old adage that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but it may be more accurate to say that “cheese and wine prevents cognitive decline.” That’s according to the results of a new study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, which looked at the role of diet in the development of dementia.
The study authors analyzed data from 1,787 British adults, all of whom were between the ages of 46 and 77 in 2016. Each participant had completed a Fluid Intelligence Test (FIT), which assesses learning and memory skills, at some point between 2006 and 2010. Follow-up tests were then conducted from 2012 to 2013 and again between 2015 and 2016, enabling the researchers to track changes in participants’ cognitive abilities over a ten-year period.
Throughout this period, respondents also answered questions about their diet, providing information on their daily intake of 49 different whole foods including fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and dairy, as well as alcoholic beverages like wine, beer and cider.
After crunching the numbers, the study authors noted that “daily cheese intake strongly predicted better FIT scores over time.” In fact, cheese was found to offer significantly more protection against age-related cognitive decline than any other kind of food, although this effect was only apparent in people with no family history of Alzheimer’s disease. Such a finding indicates that cheese may not stave off dementia in those who are genetically predisposed to the condition, but that people who lack this genetic risk may benefit substantially from a daily helping of fromage.
While the researchers can’t say why this is case, they speculate that it could have something to do with calcium, vitamin B12 and certain lactopeptides that are found in cheese and have been associated with improved cognition in older adults. Additionally, friendly bacteria that are present in certain cheeses may alter the gut microbiome, which is known to communicate with the brain and influence both mood and cognition.
The study authors also discovered that drinking a moderate amount of red wine every day appears to reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline. Interestingly, this effect was found to be stronger in people with a family history of Alzheimer’s than those without. While the researchers suggest that this neuroprotective quality may derive from the anti-inflammatory compounds that are present in red wine, they also cite another study which linked daily beer intake to a higher risk of dementia, suggesting that not all kinds of alcohol bring cognitive benefits.
A further look at the data indicated that consuming lamb once a week appears to reduce a person’s chances of suffering from cognitive decline later in life, although no such protection is provided by other types of red meat. Too much salt, meanwhile, was identified as a major contributor to dementia, but only in people with a family history of Alzheimer’s.
Commenting on these findings, study author Brandon Klinedinst explained in a statement that “depending on the genetic factors you carry, some individuals seem to be more protected from the effects of Alzheimer’s, while other 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 and putting this disease in a reverse trajectory.”