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Will Lots of Veggies on the Menu Help Your Brain?

Scientists find that seniors who eat lots of veggies full of carotenoids are less likely to have plaques and tangles of Alzheimer disease.
Will Lots of Veggies on the Menu Help Your Brain?
Healthy food, clean eating concept. Variety of colorful seasonal fall vegetables creamy soups with ingredients. Pumpkin, broccoli, carrot, beetroot, potato, tomato spinach

If you are looking to reduce your risk of Alzheimer disease, you might want to pile lots of veggies on your plate. According to a new study, people who eat lots of veggies rich in carotenoids appear less likely to develop Alzheimer disease. A previous study showed that when people with the condition took carotenoid supplements with fish oil, their disease progressed more slowly.

Findings from the Rush Memory and Aging Project:

A long-term study, the Rush Memory and Aging Project, included 927 older individuals with no dementia at the start of the study. The volunteers filled out questionnaires about what they ate. Those with the highest intakes of carotenoids were only half as likely to develop Alzheimer disease (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jan. 2021).

The researchers were interested in brain pathology as well. During the study time frame, 508 people died and underwent autopsy. Those who had consumed more carotenoids were less likely to have plaques and tangles upon autopsy. These features are associated with Alzheimer disease. Consequently, the conclusions are similar for people who survived as for those who died. Lots of veggies are better for the brain.

Lots of Veggies Contain Carotenoids:  

The scientists found the best evidence for protection from total carotenoids. They also looked at individual compounds like beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein-zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin. Carotenoids are colorful compounds that give plants yellow, orange or reddish hues. The body converts most of them into vitamin A (retinol). However, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin are exceptions, as they cannot be converted.

Veggies like pumpkin, squash, carrots and collards are good sources of carotene compounds. So are tomatoes, tangerines, peas, kale and cantaloupe. Fruits like tomatoes (yes, they are a fruit) and watermelon provide lots of lycopene. Pumpkin, papayas, red bell peppers and oranges offer beta-cryptoxanthin. So do tangerines, nectarines, carrots and yellow corn. For lutein and zeaxanthin, look to spinach, kale, collards and other greens (dandelion, mustard, turnip). Other good sources are both summer and winter squash, peas, corn, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

In addition to carotenoids, this produce also provides vitamins, minerals and fiber. That’s why we recommend eating lots of veggies rather than taking supplements to get the benefits from carotenoids. If you would like some ideas on how to cook them, you’ll find delicious instructions in our book, Recipes & Remedies From The People’s Pharmacy

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Yuan C et al, "Dietary carotenoids related to risk of incident Alzheimer dementia (AD) and brain AD neuropathology: a community-based cohort of older adults." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jan. 2021. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa303
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