Foods you love may help protect your brain

Researchers at the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Prevention of Dementia in Washington, D.C., had some good news for an aging population: Eating delicious foods such as strawberries and other berries is a positive step toward protecting your brain against future Alzheimer’s disease.

These foods are rich sources of folate, an important B vitamin, as well as vitamin C and other antioxidants that have been associated with prevention of cognitive decline.

Alzheimer’s disease currently afflicts nearly 28 million people worldwide at a cost of roughly $156 billion. At least 4.5 million Americans are afflicted and this number is projected to climb as high as 16 million by 2050.

The death of former President Ronald Reagan from Alzheimer’s disease last year brought this once “closeted” condition onto center stage. Research has stepped up on ways to delay its progression, delay its onset or, better yet, prevent it altogether.

So far, the best strategies for preserving brain health appear to be the very same ones that also may protect against other chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer: healthier diets and more exercise.

In the healthy diet category, several presentations at the conference were of note, according to a news release. In one, older people who drank fruit and vegetable juices more than three times a week had a 75 percent reduced chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, compared to people who did so less than once a week. Another study assessed cognitive function in older people over a seven-year period and found that those with the highest fruit and vegetable intakes had the least cognitive de-cline.

Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidant vitamins, phytonutrients, the B vitamin folate and other healthy components. One study reported that taking 800 mcg of folic acid for three years slowed cognitive decline and preserved memory in people 50 to 70 years old. Those who took the supplement had the memory capabilities of people five and a half years younger and the cognitive speed of people nearly two years younger.

An analysis of older U.S. women in the Nurses’ Health Study also found that those with the highest plasma folate and vitamin B-12 levels were cognitively equivalent to being about five years younger.

Strawberries are a particularly good source of folate, so getting these super foods into the diet as much as possible makes sense.

Some people find it easier to achieve high levels of fruit intake by incorporating fruits into smoothies and other convenient drinkable forms.

Although much remains to be learned, scientists believe that fruit and vegetable nutrients benefit the brain by reducing in-flammation, reducing oxidant damage, re-ducing homocysteine, improving brain cell membrane repair and function, improving blood flow and improving insulin sensitivity.