People who consume just a handful of nuts each day for several years can significantly improve their cognitive function in old age, according to a new study from the University of South Australia (UniSA).
The research, which involved 4,822 Chinese adults ages 55 and older, shows that eating more than 10 grams of nuts per day (including peanuts, a legume) was linked to better mental functioning, including improved thinking, reasoning and memory.
Lead researcher Dr. Ming Li said the study is the first to find a link between cognition and nut consumption in older Chinese adults. The findings provide important insights into the increasing mental health issues (including dementia) faced by aging populations.
“Population aging is one of the most substantial challenges of the twenty-first century. Not only are people living longer, but as they age, they require additional health support which is placing unprecedented pressure on aged-care and health services,” Li said.
“In China, this is a massive issue, as the population is aging far more rapidly than almost any other country in the world. Improved and preventative health care including dietary modifications can help address the challenges that an aging population presents.”
“By eating more than 10 grams (or two teaspoons) of nuts per day older people could improve their cognitive function by up to 60 percent, compared to those not eating nuts, effectively warding off what would normally be experienced as a natural two-year cognition decline.”
The UniSA researchers evaluated nine waves of data collected for more than 22 years from the China Health Nutrition Survey. They found that 17 percent of participants were regular consumers of nuts (mostly peanuts). Li said peanuts have specific anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which can alleviate and reduce cognitive decline.
“Nuts are known to be high in healthy fats, protein and fiber with nutritional properties that can lower cholesterol and improve cognitive health,” Li says. “While there is no cure for age-related cognition decline and neurogenerative disease, variations in what people eat are delivering improvements for older people.”
The World Health Organization estimates that globally, the number of people living with dementia is at 47 million. By 2030, this is projected to rise to 75 million and by 2050, global dementia cases are estimated to almost triple. China has the largest population of people with dementia.
“As people age, they naturally experience changes to conceptual reasoning, memory, and processing speed. This is all part of the normal ageing process,” Li said.
“But age is also the strongest known risk factor for cognitive disease. If we can find ways to help older people retain their cognitive health and independence for longer — even by modifying their diet — then this absolutely worth the effort.”
Source: University of South Australia