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Fluid intelligence – the ability to creatively solve problems without prior knowledge or learning – declines with age. Greater losses of fluid intelligence are associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Findings from a recent study suggest that dietary factors protect against fluid intelligence losses.

Nutrition plays critical roles in maintaining cognitive health. Evidence indicates that adherence to dietary patterns that include fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. People who carry gene variants that increase their risk of Alzheimer’s disease may benefit from consuming foods that are rich in DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid.

The study involved nearly 1,800 people between the ages of 46 and 77 years who were enrolled in the UK Biobank Prospective Study. The participants completed three fluid intelligence tests over a period of several years to assess their ability to creatively solve problems without prior knowledge or learning. They also completed food frequency questionnaires regarding their dietary intake.

The authors of the study found that daily cheese consumption provided the most protection against age-related fluid intelligence losses. They also found that alcohol consumption, especially red wine, provided protection. Eating lamb was associated with better cognitive performance but eating other types of red meat was not. In general, eating too much salt promoted cognitive decline, especially among high-risk groups.

These findings suggest that dietary modifications can promote cognitive health in aging. One mechanism that may drive these benefits is autophagy, a cellular recycling program that is crucial in maintaining neuronal health. Caloric restriction mimetics, such as spermidine (present in aged cheese) and resveratrol (present in red wine), “trick” cells into inducing autophagy even in the setting of sufficient nutrient levels. Watch Dr. Guido Kroemer describe the autophagy-inducing effects of calorie restriction mimetics such as spermidine and resveratrol.

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