New research has revealed a link between eating fruit and vegetables and the prevention of dementia. This is an exciting breakthrough, given that more than 1,700 dementia cases are diagnosed every week, and that it is now the third leading cause of death in Australia. This scientific research supported by the BUPA Health Foundation has shown that there is a more direct correlation between dementia and what we eat and drink than previously thought.
The key finding in this research focuses on free radical damage. The more free radical damage there is in the body, the higher the chance of cognitive decline. Dr Ross Grant, from the Australasian Research Institute, described it this way: “When you eat too many unhealthy foods or drink alcohol, you end up with a high concentration of chemicals called ‘free radicals’ floating around in the body”. Free radicals create ‘oxidative stress’, which can cause damage to your cells and DNA. In response to oxidative stress, your body produces antioxidants to ‘defend’ itself. However, antioxidants are also found in some of the food we eat – in particular brightly coloured vegetables and fruit.
Within just two hours of eating a meal high in saturated fat and sugar, your body is exposed to an increase in free radical damage and the associated oxidative stress.
Of course, our immune system is made to cope with such stresses and when exposed to free radicals it quickly kicks into gear in order to protect the body. Too many unhealthy lifestyle choices (and this means eating and drinking) can overwhelm the immune system though, leaving the body with less capacity to repair. As the body’s health declines, ongoing inflammation and damage occur, which can lead to accelerated ageing and diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and degenerative brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“Eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables can provide our bodies with extra antioxidants. These antioxidants fight free radicals, which may help reduce our risk of brain decline.” – BUPA Australia
In this recent study, Dr Ross discovered that oxidant stress, caused by free radical damage, decreases the level of ‘anti-ageing’ chemicals, which are vital to help the body to repair cell damage.
“That’s when you start to see DNA damage in cells, which can affect the next generation of cells”, he said. “That next generation will work slightly less well, so you age faster. It can affect all sorts of tissues in your body, including your muscles, kidneys, liver and brain, to age faster.”
Eating our way to better health
Fortunately, we have some control over the situation. By improving our diet and selecting a wide range of coloured fruit and vegetables we can reduce the amount of free radicals in our system and protect our brains against oxidative stress. This in turn can help prevent dementia.
In simple terms, choose an assortment of bright red, green, orange and purple fruit and vegetables. By choosing a wide variety of colours, you are ensuring that you will receive a wide variety of different antioxidants and nutrients.
Alcohol should also be consumed in moderation, as this can also encourage inflammatory damage to our cells. Consuming too much refined sugar is also a no-no.
Sage Institute of Aged Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
Changes in Oxidative Damage, Information and [NAD (H)] with Age in Cerebrospinal Fluid – Jade Guest, Ross Grant, Trevor A Mori, Kevin D. Croft
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