A diet high in carrots, kale and sweet potatoes could help older adults avoid dementia, according to new research. The compounds responsible for bright colours in vegetables can boost brain function in adults as they age, it has been revealed.
Test subjects with lower levels of carotenoids in their bodies had to use more brain power to carry out tasks associated with memory. This backed up scientists’ theories that brightly coloured vegetables improve cognitive ability.
Functional MRI technology was used by the researchers at the University of Georgia to see how levels of the substance affect activity in the brain. More than 40 adults were involved in the study, with an age range of 65 to 86-years-old.
They were asked to recall word pairings that they had been taught earlier and the activity in the brain was captured on the MRI scanner and then analysed. Those with higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin (two types of carotenoids) required less brain activity to remember the words.
Individuals with lower levels not only used more brain power to complete the task, they also relied on different parts of the brain to recall the pairings. The findings could help older people to ward off dementia for longer.
Cutter Lingbergh, lead researcher on the study, said: “There's a natural deterioration process that occurs in the brain as people age, but the brain is great at compensating for that. One way it compensates is by calling on more brain power to get a job done so it can maintain the same level of cognitive performance.
“It's in the interest of society to look at ways to buffer these decline processes to prolong functional independence in older adults. Changing diets or adding supplements to increase lutein and zeaxanthin levels might be one strategy to help with that.”
While the researchers noted that there was no correlation between levels of the compounds and numbers of words recalled, it did show how much harder the brain needed to work to bring them back. The organ went into overdrive to compensate for reduced ability.
Initially it looked like everybody was doing the same thing, but it was the ability to see inside the brain that highlighted the differences. Future tests will include adding more vegetables high in carotenoids into the diet and monitoring cognitive function.
Previous studies into the compounds have found they help to combat hard-to-beat breast cancer and improve eye health. All of these are issues that can affect the elderly, meaning extra vibrant vegetables are well worth eating.