Keeping active, eating healthily and not smoking are among the top tips touted by doctors for keeping your brain healthy as you age.
But scientists now say they have found another — tucking into cheese.
Researchers in Japan, who monitored the health and eating habits of more than 1,500 over-65s, said those who regularly ate cheese scored better of cognitive tests.
The results suggest that those who tucked into the dairy product have a lower risk of dementia, according to the scientists.
Cheese may contain certain nutrients that boost brain function, but further studies are needed to confirm the results, the scientists said.
Several studies have shown a beneficial association between cheese intake and cognitive health
Maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking too much alcohol and keeping blood pressure at a healthy level are recommended by health chiefs to reduce the risk of dementia.
But the researchers, based at the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology in Obu, noted that previous studies suggested that physical activity, a Mediterranean diet, dairy intake and a moderate consumption of wine can delay or prevent dementia and cognitive decline.
Other studies have suggested a high intake of soybean products, vegetables, seaweed, milk and dairy products lowers the risk.
To further probe the link with brain health and dairy products, the team analysed data from 1,504 participants aged 65 and over in Tokyo who were quizzed on their dietary habits and health.
Around eight in 10 included cheese in their diet, either daily (27.6 per cent), once every two days (23.7 per cent) or once or twice a week (29.7 per cent).
Processed cheese was the most popular, with two-thirds selecting this option.
Participants also reported eating white mould cheese, such as brie, camembert and cream cheese (15.3 per cent), fresh cheese, including feta, mascarpone and ricotta (13 per cent), and blue bold cheese, such as stilton, Gorgonzola and blue brie (2.5 per cent).
Volunteers also completed a 30-point exam to test their cognitive function, which includes checks on orientation, attention, memory, language and visual-spatial skills.
A score of 23 or below was suggested poorer cognitive function.
Results, published in the Nutrients journal, showed that participants who included cheese in their diets were less likely to receive a score below this threshold, suggesting they had better cognitive function.
On average, those who ate cheese scored 28 points, while those who didn’t had 27.
Cheese-eaters also had slightly lower BMI and blood pressure, a faster walking speed and more variety in their diet. However, they also had higher cholesterol and blood sugar, result show.
The team wrote: ‘The results suggest that cheese intake is inversely associated with lower cognitive function even after adjusting for multiple confounding factors.’
However, the authors that their findings alone could not prove that cheese protects against poor brain health, noting that follow-up studies would be needed to confirm the results.
They said their findings may be down to cheese-eaters tending to have a more varied diet. But cheese may also contain nutrients that ‘support cognitive function’, the team said.
What is dementia?
A global concern
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour.
There are many types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of different types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
How many people are affected?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. This is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75 per cent of those diagnosed.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
Is there a cure?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted, the more effective treatments can be.
Source: Alzheimer’s Society
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