Those of us who are interested in living to a ripe old age might have at least some concern about preserving our mental faculties should we achieve our goal. Whilst some of us are seeking to ensure a decent quantity of lives or ourselves, quality of life is also important, and our ability to enjoy whatever years we have coming to us may be seriously impaired by mental decline or full-blown dementia.
Previously, I have written about the potential role of omega-3 fats, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), in the prevention of dementia. Quite recently I came across a study which suggests other nutrients, namely vitamins C and E, may be helpful in this respect too.
One of the theories regarding why the brain ‘ages’ concerns damage inflicted by harmful chemical entities known as ‘free radicals’. In the body, free radicals are disarmed by what are known as ‘antioxidants’, which include vitamins C and E.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging examined the relationship between vitamin C and vitamin E intake and mental function was assessed in a group of almost 4,000 individuals aged 65 or more over a 7-year period .
Higher levels of intake of vitamin C, both alone and in combination with vitamin E, were found to be associated with better mental functioning, leading the authors of the study to conclude that higher intakes of antioxidant nutrients may help to delay ‘cognitive decline’ in the elderly.
One of the problems with an ‘epidemiological’ study of this nature is that it can never be used to prove that one or more nutrients have benefits for health ” all they do is show ‘associations’.
But I reckon that should not put us off eating foods that are natural, nutrient-dense, from which we might anticipate broad benefits for health. Examples of such foods include fruits and vegetables (which are generally rich in vitamin C) and nuts and seeds (which are good sources of vitamin E).
Wengreen HJ, et al. Antioxidant intake and cognitive function of elderly men and women: the cache county study. J Nutr Health Aging. 200y;11(3):230-7.