The headline was on the front page of a national newspaper, tucked beneath a coloured banner directing readers to an article inside about a Christmas dinner cooked by professionals. I had images of everyone over the age of 50 sitting behind their Christmas dinners with a huge pile of spinach nestling alongside the turkey and roast potatoes. Well, let’s face it, if it were true, we’d all eat spinach for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of our lives.
But sadly, it isn’t true. The article was commenting on research by Rush University in Chicago, which has a Centre for Ageing that has produced some excellent studies about the causes of dementia. Researchers didn’t say that if you eat spinach you will not develop dementia. They were looking at the effects of diet on the health of the brain, and showed that adding a daily serving of green, leafy vegetables to your diet may be a simple way to foster brain health. Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society said, ‘the researchers did not directly look at dementia, so we cannot say that it would delay or prevent the onset of the condition.’[i]
Headlines with the words ‘dementia, cure, or prevent’ are nearly always front-page stories, whether they are true or not. In the past few years there have been any number of articles about various foods and diets that are said to prevent dementia, even including green tea and chocolate, Brazil nuts and more. (Chocolate was a great disappointment. If you ate enough to make a difference you’d probably die from diabetes.)
One fairly large study showed that people who drank tea had happier lives than those who drank coffee – and as depression is a risk factor for dementia – hey presto! we should all drink tea. More moderate observers noted that drinking tea was only a tiny part of a person’s life, and that the person’s whole lifestyle was more important.
That’s the real point. One of the longest studies in the world showed that a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, a good diet (Mediterranean is recommended), not smoking and only moderate alcohol intake, and staying socially connected helps prevent dementia. You can look it up here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-29820916.
It’s good advice for Christmas time. Eat well, (including spinach if you like!) go lightly with the wine, go for a good walk or two, and enjoy the company. Experts say that interacting with each other is better for our brains than any kind of brain-training activity.
[i] daily express, Thursday, December 21, 2017.