Eating spinach like Popeye won’t just make you stronger — it could protect you from dementia.

People with high levels of three key antioxidants in their blood are less likely to get the memory-robbing disorder, researchers have found.

Researchers at the US National Institutes of Health found that for every increase in levels of lutein, zeaxanthin levels and beta-cryptoxanthin reduces the risk of suffering from dementia. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in green, leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli and peas. Oranges and papaya are major sources of the other, beta-cryptoxanthin.

Lead researcher Dr May Beydoun, an expert in ageing from the US National Institutes of Health, said, “Extending people’s cognitive function is an important public health challenge. Antioxidants may help protect the brain from oxidative stress, which can cause cell damage.” But she added that more studies are needed to test whether the antioxidants really ‘can help protect the brain from dementia’.

The study itself, published in the journal Neurology, did not actually look at the diets of volunteers. However, scientists have long-advocated that a healthy diet can ward off dementia by boosting heart and circulatory health — both of which are known to play a role in the disease.
As well as through diet, people can bolster their blood levels of the three compounds by taking supplements.

Dr Beydoun and colleagues analysed blood samples of more than 7,000 Americans. All of the participants were aged at least 45 and also underwent a physical exam and interview at the beginning of the study.
They were then monitored for 16 years, on average, so experts could track the rates of dementia. Participants were divided into three groups based on their level of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin in their blood. The team also acknowledged the findings are limited because they are based on one measurement of blood taken at the start of the study, meaning they ‘may not reflect people’s levels over their lifetime’.

Dozens of studies have shown that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help reduce the risk of dementia, which 944,000 Britons and 6.5million Americans suffer from.

What is the link between diet and dementia?

Dozens of studies have shown that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help reduce the risk of dementia. Experts believe that eating a certain diet could affect biological mechanisms which go on to trigger dementia. What a person eats could also indirectly be related to dementia by increasing the risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease, which are known to be linked with dementia.

Studies have previously found that a Mediterranean diet, which is high in vegetables, fruit, legumes and fish, lowers blood pressure, which is a risk factor for dementia.

Every 15.4 micromols per litre increase of lutein and zeaxanthin levels was linked with a seven per cent decrease in risk of dementia, the researchers calculated. Meanwhile, every 8.6 micromols per litre increase of beta-cryptoxanthin slashed the chance of developing dementia by 14 per cent.

The effect of antioxidants on dementia was reduced when other factors were taken into account, including education, income and physical activity. “It’s possible that those factors may help explain the relationship between antioxidant levels and dementia,” Dr Beydoun added.

Dr James Connell, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said previous findings on the link between antioxidants and the risk of dementia have been ‘mixed’. When lifestyle, socio-economic status and physical activity factors were taken into account, the reduced risk spotted in the new study ‘was smaller’, he said. “It is important that researchers continue to investigate the protective effects of antioxidants in the context of other risk factors and work to understand how they interact,” Dr Connell said.

He added, “The diseases that cause dementia develop over many years, but this study only looked at antioxidant levels at one point in time. While this research highlights a potentially interesting finding, it is important that research takes a long-term view of factors that may affect risk. The only way to know if particular foods or dietary supplements containing these could help reduce dementia risk is through careful clinical trials in the future. We know that dementia risk is complex and comprises factors including, age and genetics as well as lifestyle factors such as our diet. Making positive lifestyle changes can reduce our risk of developing the diseases that cause dementia.”

Original source: https://www.dailymail.co.uk