Leafy Green Vegetables Could Slow Cognitive Decline

One daily serving of leafy green vegetables slowed decline in performance on thinking and memory tests.

Cognitive decline is an inevitable part of aging, with some individuals experiencing very mild decline and others experiencing more extreme effects.

Consuming as little as 1 serving of leafy green vegetables per day may help reduce a decline in memory and thinking as individuals age, according to a study published by Neurology.

“Adding a daily serving of green leafy vegetables to your diet may be a simple way to help promote brain health,” said study author Martha Clare Morris, ScD. “There continue to be sharp increases in the percentage of people with dementia as the oldest age groups continue to grow in number. Effective strategies to prevent dementia are critically needed.”

The authors analyzed data from 960 older adults who completed food frequency questionnaires and cognitive assessments. At baseline, patients were an average age of 81 years and did not have dementia.

During the study, patients had their memory skills tested and tracked how many half-cup servings they ate of spinach, kale, collards, and greens, or a 1-cup serving of lettuce and salad. The authors compared the results of the cognitive assessments between patients who were grouped based on how frequently they consumed leafy vegetables.

Overall, the scores on the thinking and memory tests declined 0.08 standardized units per year, according to the study.

Compared with patients who rarely or never consumed leafy green vegetables, those who ate 1 serving per day had a reduced rate of decline on memory and thinking skill tests. The authors found that the scores for patients who ate the most servings of leafy greens slowed 0.05 standardized units per year compared with those who ate the least, according to the study.

The authors also found that older adults who consumed at least 1 serving of leafy greens each day were 11 years younger cognitively than those who ate less of the vegetables.

These results remained true after accounting for seafood and alcohol consumption, smoking, hypertension, obesity, education, and amount of physical and cognitive activities, which can all impact brain aging, according to the study.

“The study results do not prove that eating green, leafy vegetables slows brain aging, but it does show an association,” Dr Morris said. “The study cannot rule out other possible reasons for the link.”

The authors said that a majority of patients included in the trial were older and white, so these results may not apply to younger individuals and patients of color. The results must be confirmed in different populations and in clinical trials to determine if there is a cause-and-effect relationship between consuming leafy greens and reduced cognitive decline, the authors concluded.