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Nuts, Seeds, and Greens Prevent Mental Decline in the Elderly

Want to keep your mental edge sharp as you age? Eat lots of nuts, seeds, and greens such as mustard greens, chard and spinach. These vitamin-E rich foods help prevent the decline in mental function associated with aging, data shows from a study recently published in the Archives of Neurology.

Practical Tips

Eating vitamin-E rich foods is far superior to popping a vitamin E pill. The vast majority of vitamin E supplements contain only one fraction of the vitamin, d-alpha-tocopherol. More specifically, many supplements contain only a synthetic version of this one fraction, which is listed as dl-alpha tocopherol.

Natural whole vitamin E, as it is found in the World’s Healthiest Foods, is actually a family of vitamins that includes many tocopherols and tocotrienols, all of which have different, yet complimentary protective antioxidant actions.

According to the World’s Healthiest Food’s stringent criteria for nutrient density, excellent sources of vitamin E include mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, spinach, sunflower seeds and broccoli. Very good sources of vitamin E include almonds, olives, and papaya.

Here are just a few of the many suggestions available on this website to help you increase your consumption of vitamin E:

  • Serve healthy sautéed mustard greens with walnuts and lemon juice.
  • Use chard in addition to spinach when preparing vegetarian lasagna.
  • Add sunflower seeds to your favorite tuna, chicken or turkey salad recipe.
  • Almonds, apple slices and whole grain crackers make a wonderfully simple, on-the-go power snack.

Research Summary

This population-based study, conducted from September 17, 1993, to November 20, 2000, included 2,889 community residents, aged 65 to 102 years, who completed detailed questionnaires about the frequency with which they consumed various foods. Changes in the study subjects’ thinking ability was measured by giving all participants several cognitive tests (the East Boston Memory Test, which tests immediate and delayed recall; the Mini-Mental State Examination; and the Symbol Digit Modalities Test) at the beginning and end of the study, and also testing 288 randomly selected participants six months after the study began.

Test results showed that more than 60% of the study participants showed some decline in their mental function during the course of the study, while 39% had no decline or even improved. Those participants who reported the highest consumption of vitamin E-rich foods were found to have significantly less decline in mental function than those whose consumption of these foods was lowest.

People in the top 20% of vitamin E consumption had a 36% reduction in their rate of mental decline compared to those in lowest fifth of intake of foods rich in vitamin E. Those with the highest intake of vitamin E from foods alone had a 32% reduction in their rate of mental decline, compared to those with the least vitamin E in their diets.

The researchers theorize that vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant, may help prevent free radicals from damaging brain cells, which are largely composed of lipids (fats). Free radicals, which are produced by sunlight, chemicals in the environment, the drugs we take or the foods we eat, and even as a result of our body’s normal metabolic processes, can damage tissue and have been linked to disease. Previous research has suggested that people who consume more vitamin E retain mental function and are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

The same team recently reported similar findings for the consumption of vitamin E-rich foods and Alzheimer's disease. High intake of the nutrient was linked to a 70% reduction in the risk of developing the disease during a 4-year period. Together, these studies strongly suggest that making vitamin-E rich foods a frequent part of your healthy way of eating can have a protective effect on your brain.

Reference: Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Tangney CC, Wilson RS. Vitamin E and cognitive decline in older persons. Arch Neurol 2002 Jul;59(7):1125-32.

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