High vegetable and fruit intake may be linked to better brain function

Messages are constantly being published to encourage us to eat plenty of vegetables and fruits and I certainly write about the importance of these foods often.  Vegetables and fruits provide the body with an array of vitamins, minerals and bioflavonoids (bioactive plant chemicals) which are associated with the prevention of many diseases.  Some of the vitamins and bioflavonoids act as antioxidants in the body and this may be one way that that prevent disease.  Antioxidants are another topic that I often write about, they protect the body from attack by destructive molecules known as ‘free radicals’.

A newly published study (1) has found that eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits may be associated with a reduced risk of ‘cognitive impairment’, mental impairment, later in life.

193 healthy people aged 45-102 years old were included in the study.  Each participant took part in cognitive testing and also gave blood which was assessed for antioxidant status.  Each person also completed a specific food frequency questionnaire which assessed their daily intake of vegetable and fruits.  The participants were scored to have either a high intake or a low intake.  94 subjects in the high-intake score group had significantly higher cognitive test scores and higher levels of antioxidant nutrients in their blood compared to 99 subjects who had low intake of vegetables and fruits.  In addition to this the cognitive scores were directly correlated with blood levels of specific antioxidant nutrients (1).

The authors of the study conclude (1) “Healthy subjects of any age with a high daily intake of fruits and vegetables have higher antioxidant levels, lower levels of biomarkers of oxidative stress, and better cognitive performance than healthy subjects of any age consuming low amounts of fruits and vegetables. Modification of nutritional habits aimed at increasing intake of fruits and vegetables should be encouraged to lower prevalence of cognitive impairment in later life”. 

This follows on well from the piece I posted on Monday which discussed recent evidence that lifestyle may impact cognition later in life.  The High Intake group in this study was consuming around 400g of vegetables and fruits daily which is a very achievable amount.  The low intake group, by contrast were eating less that 100g of these foods daily.  Integrating at least 5 portions of vegetables and fruits into the daily diet is highly recommended. 

Dr. M. Cristina Polidori, currently at the Department of Geriatrics, Marienhospital Herne, Ruhr-University of Bochum, Germany, explained in a press release (2):It is known that there is a strong association between fruit and vegetable intake and the natural antioxidant defenses of the body against free radicals. It is also known that bad nutritional habits increase the risk of developing cognitive impairment with and without dementia. With this work we show a multiple link between fruit and vegetable intake, antioxidant defenses and cognitive performance, in the absence of disease and independent of age. Among other lifestyle habits, it is recommended to improve nutrition in general and fruit and vegetable intake in particular at any age, beginning as early as possible. This may increase our chances to remain free of dementia in advanced age.”

Further, much larger, studies are planned that will include patients with Alzheimer’s disease at different stages and patients with mild cognitive impairment without dementia.  I will be following developments with interest.  As my many previous posts have shown, a good diet and lifestyle really can impact our health, both in the present and the future.  As I mentioned last week, even small changes can add up over time to create a bigger impact. 


(1)Polidori MC et al.  High fruit and vegetable intake is positively correlated with antioxidant status and cognitive performance in healthy subjects. J Alzheimers Dis. 17:4
(2)Science daily press release. 
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090909064910.htm.  IOS Press BV (2009, September 10). High Fruit And Vegetable Intake Linked To Antioxidant Status And Cognitive Performance In Healthy Subjects. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 11, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2009/09/090909064910.htm
Written by Ani Kowal