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Wine, cheese and brains

Wine and cheese
Wine and cheese may be related to better long-term brain function, according to a large analysis of seniors’ eating and drinking habits. (Source: Adobe Stock)

Wine and cheese lovers – which, to be honest, probably includes the majority of older adults – might be encouraged by the findings of a recent study conducted at Iowa State University connecting these two foods with improved long-term brain health. 

This large-scale analysis analyzed information from about 1,800 adults between the ages of 46 and 77 who are participants in the UK Biobank, an in-depth database of health and genetic information made available to medical researchers around the world. 

They completed a Fluid Intelligence Test (FIT), which provides a snapshot of a person’s ability to think “on the fly,” as part of information they provided at baseline and during two follow-up assessments conducted over a period of about 10 years. 

Over the same time period, they also answered extremely detailed questions about their food and alcohol consumption on a food frequency questionnaire. Categories included were fresh and dried fruits, raw and cooked vegetables and salad, oily and lean fish, processed meats, poultry, beef, lamb, pork, cheese, bread, cereal, tea and coffee, beer and cider, red wine, white wine and champagne and liquor.

Four of the study’s most significant findings related to their food and beverage choices were:

1. Cheese, by far, was found to be the most protective food against age-related cognitive problems, even very late in life;

2. Daily consumption of alcohol in moderation, particularly red wine, was related to improvements in cognitive function;

3. Weekly consumption of lamb (but not other red meats) was shown to improve long-term cognitive ability; 

4. Excessive intake of salt was found to be harmful to brain health, but only for individuals already at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

“I was pleasantly surprised that our results suggest that responsibly eating cheese and drinking red wine daily are not just good for helping us cope with our current COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps also dealing with an increasingly complex world that never seems to slow down,” said Auriel Willette, an assistant professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State who led the research. “While we took into account whether this was just due to what well-off people eat and drink, randomized clinical trials are needed to determine if making easy changes in our diets could help our brains in significant ways.”

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