Biogen’s new Alzheimer’s drug lecanemab has gotten the headlines recently. But it’s not the only good news on the dementia front. Far from it. Some might even say we’re making as much progress, or more, outside the drug labs as inside.
I’ve already written about the power of walking, crosswords, and meditation to lower your risk of dementia. Now comes some fresh research from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago that is terrific news.
A long-running and detailed study of nearly 1,000 elderly people has found that those who ate certain foods in their diet—those that contain certain natural compounds known as flavonols—were less likely to get dementia. Seriously less likely.
“The highest quintile of flavonol intake…versus the lowest is associated with a 32% reduction in the rate of cognitive decline,” says Dr. Thomas Holland, an MD and professor at Rush Medical College, who led the study. His study reports that flavonol consumption was “associated with slower decline in global cognition, episodic memory, semantic memory, perceptual speed, and working memory.”
What really matters, of course, is: What foods are we talking about?
I can already hear a collective groan from Long Beach to Long Island when I report that, yes, kale is on the list. So is broccoli. But there are happier foods too. Drinking tea is great for you: It has plenty of the key flavonols. Tomatoes, apples, spinach and beans all make the list.
If I can eat kale and spinach, anyone can. (Though I admit I draw the line at broccoli.)
As a child I had to eat that awful “creamed spinach” stuff, and it put me off for decades. Not until people started putting spinach in salads did I give it another try. Now I love raw spinach and it’s a fabulous ingredient in wraps.
As for kale: I have learned that the best way to consume it is in a juice. (Cue the kale, cucumber, celery, apple and ginger juice.) That way you can get all your kale consumption for the day out of the way in 2 minutes first thing. Oh boy, does it wake you up.
If you start your day drinking kale juice, trust me: The only way is up.
Researchers admit that they “do not fully understand” how flavonols fight cognitive decline, but the compounds have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. And in the usual manner of scientists, they are wary of claiming causation until they can see the process. But although they cannot yet “prove” that these foods slow cognitive decline, that those who ate a lot of them had much slower decline.
The study was part of Rush University’s Memory & Aging Project. Subjects were recruited from retirement communities and senior public housing in the Chicago area. They were studied over an average period of around seven years each. Some were studied for 14 years. As part of the study, they put each of the subjects through a battery of 19 different memory and cognition tests every year. As well as, of course, surveying them about their food intake of 144 different food items. The subjects were aged 58 to 100 and had an average age of 81 years.
Two caveats: It so happened that 75% of those surveyed were female, and nearly all were Caucasian.
Scientific progress on Alzheimer’s drugs and treatments has been painfully slow—and heartbreakingly slow for all those with family or friends being slowly eliminated by the disease. The field has even been hit by a crisis this year, with serious questions raised about the reliability of a key study conducted 15 years ago.
Biogen’s BIIB, -0.01% new drug lecanemab (developed in partnership with Japanese drug company Eisai ESALY, +0.79% was found to show benefits in a Phase 3 study. Results so far suggest it may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s by as much as 27%.
So: New drug, 27%. Tea, apple and spinach? Maybe 32%.
Experts say we are probably decades away from being able to stop this disease, let alone cure it.
The good news about non-pharma treatments is that we don’t have to wait. They are available today. And they are cheap, or free.