Food & Fitness After 50: Research Roundup

Each day dozens of research studies appear in my inbox, peaking this old college professor’s interest. Last week, there were three studies that made me want to take a closer look: one published in an aging journal, one presented at an annual scientific conference, and one animal study in the journal Brain Structure and Function.  Let’s briefly talk about each one and how it might translates from the page to your plate.

Blueberries for Blood Pressure

1200-136890271-blueberriesThe blue color in blueberries is due to the presence of anthocyanins (pronounced ann-though-sigh-a-nins), a sub-group of plant chemicals knows as polyphenols. Fruits and veggies that are deeply colored red, blue, and purple are especially rich in anthocyanins. The study published in the Journals of Gerontology (gerontology is the study of aging) found that eating about a cup of blueberries twice a day lowered blood pressure similar to the lowering from taking common blood pressure meds. The effect on blood pressure was both acute (happened quickly) and chronic (over time). Researchers found that the anthocyanins relaxed blood vessels and reduced the stiffness that occurs in aging blood vessels. As we age, our blood vessels lose their elasticity making it harder to control blood pressure and increasing our risk for heart disease.

What does in mean for you?

Eat more blueberries! One cup of berries, whether fresh or frozen, has about 60 calories, making it a low-calorie addition to your diet. What it doesn’t mean is taking a blueberry concentrate supplement (yes, they do exist). Researchers note that blueberries are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and the synergistic action between them and the anthocyanins might also be a reason for their health promoting powers. So, food beats supplements!

Pomegranate: Can it juice your memory?

pom wonderfulPomegranate juice is rich in polyphenols called ellagitannins (pronounced eee-laj-ah-tan-ins). These antioxidant compounds are in plants to protect the plant, but when we eat the plant, their protectors come along for the ride. The research, presented at the 2019 meeting of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, described how a daily serving of pomegranate juice improved visual learning and retention of learning in a year-long study with older adults, average age of 60. The study was a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study; a design that is considered the gold standard in nutrition research. What that means is that study participants were randomly assigned to either drink 8-ounces of pomegranate juice or 8-ounces of drink that looked and tasted like pomegranate juice but contained none of the active polyphenols. Double-blind means that neither the participant nor the researchers knew who was getting the real juice or the placebo. Dr. Gary Small, director of the University of California (UCLA) Longevity Center, presented the current research at the scientific conference, building upon similar work that his group published in 2013 in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In the 2013 study, a similar design was used but the study was short-term, only lasting one month, but the results were similar. So, the researchers wanted to know if a longer-term study would show memory benefits, and it did.

Researchers are not sure exactly what it is in the pomegranate juice that showed the positive results. One interesting theory is that the pomegranate juice works though the gut microbiome. The healthy bacteria in our gut can breakdown the ellagitannins to a compound that crosses the blood brain barrier, exerting its beneficial effect through the gut-brain axis.

What does it mean for you?

An eight-ounce bottle of pomegranate juice contains 2 whole pomegranates, so drinking the unsweetened juice gives you 650 to 700 milligrams of polyphenols. That’s a lot of good stuff in a little bottle. Pomegranate juice is tart, not sweet, so it might appeal to those of you who don’t like sweet, sugar-added beverages. Considering that most of us don’t eat enough fruit, 8-ounces of pomegranate juice is a good way to get more fruit and healthy polyphenols in our diet.

Vitamin D: Good for the Brain?

Vit DThe third study is on vitamin D deficiency on processing new information and retaining it for future recall. It was conducted with mice and I always cautioned my students to count the legs on the research subjects before considering if it is relevant to those of us on two legs, but this study is interesting in understanding vitamin D deficiency and the brain. Vitamin D is most often thought of as a bone-building nutrient because without enough vitamin D only 10-15% of dietary calcium is absorbed. Yet, vitamin D has many roles in the body, including cognition.

Older adults are considered “at risk” for vitamin D deficiency because our skin doesn’t convert sunlight to vitamin D as readily as it did when we were younger and vitamin D isn’t found naturally in a lot of foods. Some foods, like milk, are fortified with vitamin D, but many yogurts are not. (The only way to know if your favorite yogurt is fortified with vitamin D is to read the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list on the container.)  The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 600 IU for those 51 to 70 years and 800 IU for those over 70. The upper limit is 4000 IU and many older adults take a supplement of 1000 IU to make sure they are getting enough vitamin D. Check with your doctor and ask if a vitamin D blood test is needed to tailor your vitamin D intake to your blood level.

What does it mean for you?

Choose vitamin D-rich foods, either naturally occurring or fortified (for an extensive list of vitamin D in foods click here.)

Bottom Line

Eat more deeply colored fruits and veggies, including blueberries and pomegranate juice, to get healthy plant compounds in your diet. And, choose vitamin D rich foods, like salmon or tuna, and fortified milk, yogurt, and cereals. Here is my breakfast plan:

  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt (choose a brand fortified with Vitamin D)
  • 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries and ½ cup of high fiber breakfast cereal mixed into yogurt
  • 8-ounces of pomegranate juice

While the research is promising, this breakfast may or may not improve my brain health, but it gives me a great start to the morning with three servings of fruit and a good dose of fiber in a calcium and vitamin D-rich breakfast bowl. And, did I mention it tastes great?

For more information on how foods and fitness affect brain health check out Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

Disclosure, I am on a clinical nutrition advisory board for POM Wonderful, but I was not asked to write about pomegranate juice or compensated to write this post. 

Why this dietitian promotes healthful eating and exercise for those over 50

When talking about food and fitness for those over 50, it is the best of times, and sometimes the worst of times. Everyone want to know the ”best” exercise or food to eat to prevent aging. A quick Google search will provide you with many answers, unfortunately most of them are less than science-based and are usually trying to separate you from your money. Let’s be clear: there is no one superfood or exercise that will prevent aging.

That is why, I am excited to launch Food & Fitness After 50, with co-author, exercise book-front-pagephysiologist, Bob Murray. The book will be published later this year. While there might not be a “best” exercise or food, that doesn’t mean that food and fitness are unimportant as we age. You can be healthier at 65 than you were at 45 by eating well and starting (or increasing) your physical activity. This is important because so many of us are living longer. Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, began turning 65 in 2011 and by 2029 when all boomers will be 65, more than 20% of the population will be over 65. Why is 65 an important number? Because people reaching age 65 have an average life expectancy of 19.3 years (20.5 years for women and 18 years for men). How do you want to spend those 20 years? Do you want to travel, enjoy your favorite physical activities, and be a vibrant person in the lives of your grandchildren and great grandchildren? I am sure that we all want that, so being active and eating healthfully are steps you can take right now to increase your odds of being healthy into your later years.

Just this week, The Journal of the American College of Cardiology published an article on nutrition controversies in preventing heart and blood vessel disease. The article can be found here  http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/69/9/1172?_ga=1.183783078.1620905078.1488293025 and here is an easy to guide to see their recommendations.

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While their article focused on heart disease, our book covers many healthful eating patterns to keep your heart, bones, joints, blood sugar, blood pressure, and brain healthy. Remember there isn’t one “best” eating plan. So, we feature four plans that we think most older adults will find fit their lifestyle and their enjoyment of foods:

  • The DASH eating plan (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
  • The Flexitarian plan
  • The Mediterranean Diet
  • The MIND diet (MIND stands for Mediterranean- ASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay)

We also dive into exercise for endurance, strength, agility, balance, and functional fitness. Keeping our heart and lungs strong, halting muscle loss, and keeping agile all contributes to functional fitness….the ability to do the things you did when you were younger without a second thought. I want to be able to lift my suitcase in the overhead bin when I travel and pick up a 50-pound bag of dog food, all examples of functional fitness. Age-related muscle loss usually starts at about age 40. We can lose 10-15% of muscle mass and muscle strength every decade if we don’t engage in progressive, resistance exercise.

We hope that our book can help those over 50 learn to separate usual aging from the disuse of a sedentary lifestyle and sort out the fact from fiction about foods. Please visit our webpage to learn more about the book and leave us a question that you might see featured in an upcoming blog post. Web page for Food & Fitness After 50

 

 

 

 

Citicoline and Brain Health

My husband is concerned about his brain. He exercises, is lean, and eats right, but increasingly he says he has a hard time remembering the right word or clearly articulating his thoughts. So, when I attended a lecture by Drs. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd and Perry Renshaw from The Brain Institute of the University of Utah on the brain health benefits of the dietary supplement, CognizinÒ citicoline, I was intrigued. (The session was sponsored by Kyowa Hakko, USA (http://kyowa-usa.com/), a global manufacturer of compounds used in dietary supplements and CognizinÒ brand citicoline).

After the conference I did some research by starting with Natural Medicines and then doing a literature search through Pub Med (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed) to learn more about citicoline. I also contacted Dr. Yurgelun-Todd about her research on citicoline, as she has been studying it for over a decade. I found that citicoline was originally used as a treatment for individuals who had a stroke.  It is estimated that 2 million brain cells die every minute after a stroke so early treatment is essential to preserve the brain and maintain normal function. In a recent review of citicoline used in stroke patients, it was found that citicoline was safe to use and had beneficial effects on recovery, especially in older patients (>70 yrs) who had no other treatments. One study found that when citicoline was given to stroke patients within 3 hours, they were more likely to have complete recovery compared to those who got a placebo. Not all studies find such great results, but overall the evidence of a positive improvement in brain function after a stroke is well founded.

Food is not a good source of citicoline; only a small amount is found in organ meats. When citicoline is taken orally (in a pill) it is broken down into a B-vitamin, choline, and cytidine which is further metabolized into a compound called uridine. Both choline and uridine can cross the blood brain barrier and once in the brain, they can be converted back to citicoline, sometimes referred to as CDP-choline. Within the brain citicoline has several actions. First, it helps stimulate the production of cell membranes. Second, citicoline increases the production of the neurotransmitters which have been shown to increase attention, focus and memory.

Research on citicoline for other disorders where cognitive abilities are affected is scant, but promising. Researchers can’t yet say that citicoline will improve memory or cognition in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, Bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease or traumatic brain injury, but stay tuned as more research is conducted in these areas.
I asked Dr. Yurgelun-Todd what she would say about healthy 50+ adults taking citicoline and she said that there is some good evidence to support the use of the supplement on improved focus and sustained attention. Her studies have used doses ranging from 250-4000 mg/day but she says a dose of 250-500 mg/day is effective and well-tolerated.

What about my husband? He has been taking citicoline for a couple of months (250 mg twice a day) and notices an improvement in word finding and clarity in conversations. He said he sometimes had to “think in pictures” when telling a story, but now he thinks he has better mental clarity. Of course, this is anecdotal. As for his memory, well, he still leaves the house without his wallet and phone and can’t find the milk in the refrigerator, but he feels it has helped him and that is a good thing.