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Memory and sleep also depend on what we eat

June 08, 2023
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Memory and sleep also depend on what we eat

We are what we eat, said the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach two centuries ago. Feuerbach was right but he probably didn't think he was so right... In fact, more and more scientific studies are showing that our diet can influence our risk of getting sick, the quality of sleep and even memory. Today we're talking about two very recent scientific studies that indicate how important it is for our health to include some foods and exclude others from our daily diet.

More flavanols for memory, the study

The first research was published a few days ago in the prestigious scientific journal PNAS and is the result of 15 years of work, still in progress, performed by a team of American scientists from Columbia University, of Harvard Medical School and New York University (Brickman et al, PNAS, May 2023). Previous studies conducted by the same team had shown that changes in the hippocampus, a brain region, as we age are linked to memory loss. In this case we are talking about a loss of memory not associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's, but linked to aging. Not only that, the scientists had observed that in animals some types of antioxidant substances of the flavonoid family, flavanols, are able to improve memory by stimulating the growth of neurons and blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the brain. These results were then tested in humans. For this purpose, 3562 people were recruited, average age 71 and all in good health. Before, during and at the end of the experiment time, namely 3 years, the volunteers underwent tests to evaluate memory, questionnaires to understand the type of diet they used to follow and blood and urine tests to measure the amount of flavanols actually present. The participants were then divided into two groups, one part received a placebo and was kept as a control, the other part a tablet containing 500 mg of cocoa flavanols. The pill was taken every day for 3 years. Well, what emerged is that the intake of flavanols improved memory significantly and that the best results were observed in those who, at the beginning of the study, had a diet low in flavanols. In particular, they had a 16% improvement in their memory test scores since the start of the study. The first improvements in memory were observed already after 1 year but it was at the end of the third year that the results has been consolidated.

What are the long-memory foods to consume right now

The authors of the study published in PNAS underline that more work will still need to be done to better understand the effects of dietary flavanols on memory and to develop new and promising treatments for keeping the aging brain healthy. But certainly, as the research shows, it is important to start now to include foods rich in flavanols in our diet to prevent any age-related cognitive decline. These foods are cocoa, but also green tea, apples, grapes and berries. The important thing, however, is never to overdo it and include them in a healthy and balanced diet, also because the daily amount of 500 mg of flavanols is easy to achieve. For example, two cups of Japanese green tea, steeped for ten minutes in water at 70° C, provide exactly this quantity.

Then, 10 grams of dark chocolate contain about 150 mg of flavanols, a medium-sized apple provides up to 200 mg of flavanols, 100 grams of berries exceed 100 mg of flavanols.

More regenerating sleep if you eat healthy, the study

Finally, today we report the results of another research, also very recent and published in the journal Obesity by a Swedish team from the University of Uppsala (Brandao et al, Obesity, May 2023). The research is very small, in fact involving only 15 young adults, but it is really illuminating about the role of nutrition also with regard to sleep quality. In fact, it has emerged that consuming a diet high in sugars, saturated fats and refined and highly processed foods has worsened the quality of sleep, already in the short term. In particular, deep sleep, which is the most regenerated part of sleep, the one that allows us to wake up full of energy, was deteriorated and lighter. Hence the importance of following a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, reducing as much as possible the intake of red and processed meats, butter, margarine, palm and coconut oil, sweets and salty snacks.

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