More red wine and cheese in diet reduces cognitive decline

cheese and red wine
As Christmas approaches these results seem particularly timely, but have important limitations. Source: CC0 Public Domain (via Pxhere)
Work by Iowa State University shows cheese, red wine and lamb intake reduced cognitive decline in a study of 1787 adults over 10 years.

By Holly Giles | Deputy Editor 

The news that more cheese and wine in our diet may be good for us could not have come at a better time; on Christmas Day it is estimated the average british person eats 6,000 calories, which far supasses the recommended 2500 for men and 2000 for women. Over half of Brits will have already reached their normal quota before sitting down to their christmas dinner, as a result of snacks and drinks throughout the morning. Christmas was described by the independent as “the season of delicious excess” and with these statistics it is no wonder why.

While this excessive amount may not be good for us, researchers at Iowa State University have shown that consuming cheese and wine has the ability to reduce cognitive decline.

The team analysed data from 1787 adults aged 46 to 77 and asked them to participate in a fluid intelligence test designed to test their ability to think on their feet. The test was completed three times over the course of ten years (2006-2016) so their changes over time could be compared. 

This was paired with questionnaires about their food and alcohol consumption. This included their intakes of fresh fruit, dried fruit, raw vegetables, 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. 

One of the most significant findings from the study was that cheese was shown to be the most protective food against age-related cognitive problems. Additionally, consumption of red wine was related to improvements in cognitive function.

Other findings included that lamb, but not other red meats, improved cognitive scores and that whilst excessive consumption of salt had negative effects, it only affected those already at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. 

Reflecting on the findings, principal investigator Auriel Willette, Assistant Professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State, explained:

“I was pleasantly surprised that our results suggest that responsibly eating cheese and drinking red wine daily are not just good for helping us cope with our current COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps also dealing with an increasingly complex world that never seems to slow down… While we took into account whether this was just due to what well-off people eat and drink, randomized clinical trials are needed to determine if making easy changes in our diet could help our brains in significant ways.”

Brandon Klinedinst, a neuroscience PhD candidate working in the Food Science and HUman Nutrition department at Iowa State, continued:

“Depending on the genetic factors you carry, some individuals seem to be more protected from the effects of Alzheimers, while other seem to be at greater risk. That said, I believe the right food choices can prevent the disease and cognitive decline altogether. Perhaps the silver bullet we’re looking for is upgrading how we eat. Knowing what that entails contributes to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and putting this disease in a reverse trajectory.”

However, these findings must be taken with a pinch of salt (metaphorically) as whilst the study claims cheese, wine and lamb had protective effects, it does not state the quantities associated with benefits, or if higher amounts led to different outcomes. Another consideration is that whilst they may reduce Alzheimer’s risk, cheese, alcohol and red meat have all been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and a variety of other conditions.

This limitation must be remembered as we approach the time of excess known as the christmas season; the findings are not a green light to binge of cheese and wine in the coming weeks. Sorry.


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