Remember to eat your greens before it’s too late.
A recent study out of Rush University found that participants who ate at least one serving of leafy greens a day had a slower rate of decline in memory and thinking skills versus those who rarely or never ate these green vegetables.
The study included 960 older adults, average age of 81, without dementia. They tracked their diets for an average of almost five years.
Those who ate their greens experienced a mental advantage equivalent to 11 years in age over those who didn’t.
The study found that participants who ate green leafy vegetables and foods rich in vitamin K1, vitamin E, lutein, nitrate, folic acid, and kaempferol had the best results with the cognitive tests.
Vitamin K1 foods include green leafy vegetables, scallions, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, fermented dairy, and prunes.
Vitamin E is a powerful group of antioxidants that help fight oxidative stress, known to exacerbate multiple sclerosis (MS).
These foods include wheat germ oil, almonds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, avocado, Atlantic salmon, and rainbow trout.
Folic acid is found in leafy greens, spinach, asparagus, citrus fruits, beans, peas, lentils, breads, cereals, rice, and pasta.
Lutein also comes from leafy green vegetables.
Nitrates include lettuce, beets, carrots, green beans, spinach, parsley, cabbage, radishes, celery, and collard greens.
Kaempferol comes from capers, kale, dill weed, cress, broccoli, and turnip greens.
The connection to multiple sclerosis
While this study didn’t target those with MS, it hits on an important problem associated with this disease.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, cognitive changes occur in more than 50 percent of all people with MS at a varied rate of intensity.
Cognitive dysfunction can cause significant disabilities. “Cog fog,” as many with MS call it, can be devastating.
One study recently looked at cognitive impairment as defined by the Expanded Disability Status Scale and found that about 41 percent of participants had some level of disability.
Information processing speed was the No. 1 problem. Other issues included planning, executive function, memory, fatigue, depression, and basic attention.
“Your gut could be the connection,” explained Nichole M. Bednar, MS RD, a senior dietitian, food service and Computrition specialist at UCLA Health.
“Along with all of these green vegetables comes more roughage. And you’ll never going to go wrong with antioxidants,” Bednar told Healthline.
A gut feeling
Healthy microbes thrive in an alkaline environment that can be created with low-glycemic vegetables and fruit.
Bednar further explained, “Bringing in roughage changes the microbiome into a healthier one. With the healthier gut comes less depression and less anxiety.”
In addition, “a healthy microbiome will not have inflammatory reactions. And that helps cognitive function.”
Bednar, who works with a variety of patients, added that “with MS patients, the first thing is to figure out if the patient has an allergy connection. Even just a sensitivity can cause an inflammatory response in the gut. It can kill good bacteria.”
Gut bacteria is a growing interest for those with MS. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) recently produced a study looking specifically at the microbes of MS patients and found promising information.
People with MS have different microbes than those in a healthy gut. And two microbes are showing up on a regular basis — Akkermansia muciniphila and Acinetobacter calcoaceticus.
These microbes trigger inflammation, while a species of bacteria found at lower than usual levels in MS patients — Parabacteroides distasonis — triggers immune-regulatory responses.
Bednar explained the benefits of switching diets for a week.
“One week of a plant-based diet can make a significant change in the gut biome. It can give you a new GI track.”
Recently, experts looked at experiments showing that dietary alterations can induce large, temporary microbial shifts within 24 hours.
Diet is a risk factor people with MS can manage.
Other modifiable risk factors taken into consideration for the Rush study included smoking, drinking alcohol, fish consumption, and exercises that were carefully controlled in the study, explained Dr. Barbara Giesser, professor of clinical neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and clinical director of the UCLA MS program.
Geisser emphasized that the Rush study “doesn’t prove that eating these foods slows brain aging, but it shows an association between the two.”
While careful in controlling modifiable risk factors, the samples were a little skewed, with participants mainly older and white.
She found the study “interesting but needs more research.”