A plant-based diet lowers the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in the elderly, according to a study conducted by the University of Barcelona and the CIBER on Frailty and Healthy Aging (CIBERFES). The research has been published in the ‘Molecular Nutrition and Food Research Journal’. 

This European study lasted 12 years and included 842 people over the age of 65 from the Bordeaux and Dijon regions of France. The study looked into the link between dietary component metabolism, intestinal microbiota, endogenous metabolism and cognitive impairment. 

“What we studied within the cohorts under investigation is the modifying function of the diet with the risk of suffering cognitive impairment,” said Mireia Urpi-Sarda of the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Gastronomy and CIBERFES. 

Urpi-Sarda recognized that the results showed a major association between these processes and certain metabolites. 

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

The analysis of plasma samples indicated that some metabolites are associated with the progression of cognitive impairment and dementia. Professor Cristina Andres-Lacueva explained, “For example, 2-furoyl glycine and 3-methylxanthine, which are indicators of coffee and cocoa intake, exhibited a protective profile, whereas saccharin, which is produced from artificial sweetener usage, was linked to a negative role.”  

Merce Pallas, professor at the school of Pharmacy and Food Sciences and member of the Institute of Neurosciences of the University of Barcelona, stressed the connection between cognitive impairment, microbial metabolism, food metabolism, and endogenous metabolism are all significant factors to consider when developing preventive and therapeutic measures to improve our cognitive health.  

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Therefore, changes in lifestyle and diet are decisive as a method to forestall cognitive deterioration and its progression in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. 

“A larger consumption of fruits, vegetables, and plant-based foods provides polyphenols and other bioactive substances that may help minimise the risk of age-related cognitive impairment,” Cristina Andres-Lacueva stated.  

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The study included teams from the College of Pharmacy and Food Sciences’ Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Chemistry, as well as the college of Biology’s Department of Genetics, Microbiology, and Statistics. The University of Bordeaux and also the INRAE Centre of the University Clermont-Ferrand (France), King’s College London (United Kingdom), the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands), and the Paracelsus Medical Private University (Austria) also collaborated.