Vitamins and Minerals Show Measurable Benefits in Senior Brains

Tim Watt  |  January 6, 2012

For older adults who are looking out for the health of their brains, a resolution to eat better may be the best one to make in 2012.

A recent study found that seniors who have higher levels of vitamins and minerals in their blood perform better on cognitive tests than those who have high levels of trans-fats. The study, which was one of the first to measure the effects of nutrition on brain health using blood tests, suggests that healthy eating is crucial to maintaining brain health, while unhealthy foods can be detrimental.

"The vitamins and nutrients you get from eating a wide range of fruits, vegetables and fish can be measured in blood biomarkers," said study co-author Maret Traber. "I'm a firm believer these nutrients have strong potential to protect your brain and make it work better."

In the study, 104 people with an average age of 87 were tested for 30 different nutrient biomarkers in their blood. They found that those who had high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins B, C, D and E performed better on mental acuity tests and had less brain shrinkage, a symptom of Alzheimer's disease.

The participants who showed a higher intake of trans-fats, like those found in fried foods, margarine and fast food, did poorer on the tests. They also showed more brain shrinkage than their counterparts.

"These findings are based on average people eating average American diets," Traber said. "If anyone right now is considering a New Year's resolution to improve their diet, this would certainly give them another reason to eat more fruits and vegetables."

Eating healthier foods is a new year's resolution for many people, but in its nature, it can be hard to keep, according to Cynthia Sass, a nutritionist at the University of South Florida in Tampa who works as a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Many people have dreams of tossing out junk foods and stocking up on produce come January 1, but making such a broad resolution makes it easy to break, she told WebMD.com.

Instead of vowing to change everything about a diet, seniors looking to improve their health should start small, setting only a few realistic goals, Sass told the news outlet. Although it may not be as healthy in the short-term, this type of resolution is more likely to offer lasting benefits, as it involves changing a lifestyle. 

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