What You Eat When Young Affects Brain Function When Older

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Healthier food in young adulthood can protect your brain function in middle age. That’s the conclusion of a 2015 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging based on testing of 2435 black and white men and women. These individuals were initially enrolled in a cardiovascular study database in 1985-86 when they were 18-30 years of age. After 25 years, they were given a variety of mental tests that were then compared to their self-reported dietary patterns in the beginning and at 20 years.

The researchers considered a healthy diet to be one rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, poultry, and fish, as compared to a lesser, and all too typical, diet of processed meats, salty snacks, fried foods, sweetened desserts, and sodas.

Healthy middle-aged adults who ate a better quality diet 25 years earlier or even as recent as 5 years before, scored higher in cognitive function testing, they said.

 My Viewpoint: Studies like this continue to prove the old saying that you are what you eat, and that how you eat affects your brain and how you think. Hopefully the word can get out to young people who are addicted to junk food and sodas that provide little or no nutrition. Healthy food has been associated with slower decline of cognitive function and a lessened risk of dementia and brain impairment in older adults. Now we have evidence showing that healthier eating in young adulthood protects against cognitive decline, as assessed by a variety of mental tests, in mid-life.

 What This Means to You: The healthy diet described by the researchers is similar to a modified Mediterranean diet that I have long recommended to patients. It is a potentially life-changing anti-inflammatory diet associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other inflammatory related conditions, as well as cognitive protection in older individuals. And now, as this new study shows, it can protect earlier brain slippage in middle age as well.

 Recommendation: Stay away from junk. That’s means processed meats, sweets, and sodas. It’s never too early or too late to start eating better. Your heart, your brain, and indeed your whole body will respond and serve you better if you do…at any age.

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