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Just in time for Christmas: consuming wine and cheese stems cognitive decline

What we eat and drink can impact cognitive acuity in later years, says an Iowa State University study, pointing to wine and cheese as being especially good for brain function

Wine and cheese are also part of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet
Wine and cheese are also part of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet

Wine and cheese season is upon us, and now science says they are good for us in more ways than we knew of. In a study conducted by researchers at the Food Science and Human Nutrition department at Iowa State University in the US and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Alzheimer's Disease in November 2020, the study found that consuming fermented foods like cheese and wine had a direct correlation with brain function, especially in stemming the advance of diseases that impair cognitive function like Alzheimer’s.

Cheese was shown to be the most protective food against age-related cognitive problems, even late into life, the study shows, while researchers also found that the daily consumption of red wine in healthy amounts (a glass a day is the thumb-rule), while long associated with heart health, was also related to improvements in cognitive function. Two other significant findings of the study are: Weekly consumption of lamb, but not other red meats, was shown to improve long-term cognitive acuity; and excessive consumption of salt can be bad for individuals already at risk for Alzheimer's Disease.

It is interesting to note that wine and cheese are also staples of the long-heralded Mediterannean diet, which is widely considered one of the healthiest diets in terms of the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. However, the linkage of wine and cheese with preventing cognitive degeneration and improving brain health has not been studied as extensively, and this is perhaps the first large-scale analysis of the phenomenon.

The team of researchers analyzed data collected from 1,787 aging adults (from 46 to 77 years of age, at the completion of the study) in the United Kingdom through the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing in-depth genetic and health information from half-a-million UK participants. The database is globally accessible to approved researchers undertaking vital research into the world's most common and life-threatening diseases, reported Science Daily.

Participants completed a Fluid Intelligence Test (FIT) as part of touchscreen questionnaire at baseline (compiled between 2006 and 2010) and then in two follow-up assessments (conducted from 2012 through 2013 and again between 2015 and 2016). The FIT analysis provides an in-time snapshot of an individual's ability to "think on the fly", says the Science Daily report.

Participants also answered questions about their food and alcohol consumption at baseline and through two follow-up assessments. The Food Frequency Questionnaire asked participants about their intake of fresh fruit, dried fruit, raw vegetables and salad, cooked vegetables, oily fish, lean fish, processed meat, poultry, beef, lamb, pork, cheese, bread, cereal, tea and coffee, beer and cider, red wine, white wine and champagne and liquor.

“Modifying meal plans may help minimize cognitive decline. We observed that added salt may put at-risk individuals at greater risk, but did not observe similar interactions among FH- and AD- individuals. Observations further suggest in risk status-dependent manners that adding cheese and red wine to the diet daily, and lamb on a weekly basis, may also improve long-term cognitive outcomes,” authors of the study observed.

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