By including certain fruits and vegetables in their diets, boomers may be able to slow - and possibly reverse - memory loss that comes with age, according to a pilot study by University of Cincinnati researchers.
Good nutrition, particularly a diet including phytonutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and their juices, plays an important role in the aging process and may help forestall age-related physical and mental declines.
As boomers age, the number of people 65 years of age and older is expected to double to 70 million by 2030, according to the US Census Bureau. That means age-related cognitive decline and the incidence of chronic conditions, including Alzheimer's, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, is on the rise.
Results of the report, the first placebo-controlled human study to investigate whether regular consumption of a polyphenol-rich food or beverage could have beneficial effects against age-related cognitive decline, were presented at a recent meeting of the American Aging Society in Boulder, Colo.
While food sources such as onions, apples, tea, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and certain nuts are rich in polyphenol antioxidants, the University of Cincinatti study looked specifically at Concord grape juice.
As part of the research, 12 adults with early memory decline drank daily a total of 15 to 21 ounces, depending on their body weight, of either Concord grape juice or placebo. Intake was divided among meals for a 12-week period.
While the beverages were equal in calorie and sugar content, only the Concord grape juice contained polyphenolic compounds, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help support cognitive skills. Participants who drank the grape juice showed significant improvement in list learning, and trends suggested improved short-term retention and spatial memory, the study found.
Welch Foods, which markets grape juice, provided support for the University of Cincinnati study.
"These results with Concord grape juice are very encouraging and certainly warrant additional study," said Dr. Robert Krikorian, leader of the study and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "A simple, easy-to- incorporate dietary intervention that could improve or protect memory function ... may be beneficial for the aging population."
Sugar Highs and Lows
To be sure, boomers should be mindful about the juice they are putting into their bodies, said Heidi Snyder, a certified nutrition consultant in Port Townsend, Wash., and holistic educator at Hawthorn University.
While Snyder hadn't seen the study, she said stressed that it's important to be especially aware of sugar present in both natural and concentrated juices that can rob the body of nutrients and throw off blood sugar levels.
"If you're going to have high sugar sources... combine it with a protein or fat so you will have a more even fuel burn, and you won't have as many of the highs and lows," she said, noting nuts would be a good complement.
Snyder also suggested that boomers interested in drinking grape juice should juice it themselves so it's as "fresh and enzymatically alive as possible." Additionally, diluting juice with water helps to cut some of the sugar content.
Grape juice isn't the only beverage boomers are being encouraged to drink for health reasons. Lattes made with nonfat milk can provide boomers some of their daily calcium dosage, although, it shouldn't be treated as the only nutrient source for building strong bones, nutritionists cautioned. Meanwhile, red wine, which carries an antioxidant called resveratrol that comes from grape skins and seeds, has been found to help increase life spans when consumed in moderation.
As always, it's smart for boomers to speak to their own doctor or nutritionist if they have questions about foods, beverages or supplements.
For her part, Snyder said she favors eating a variety of "whole foods, and avoiding packaged as much as possible."