A handful of peanuts a day may keep dementia away, according to a new study.
Australian researchers say eating nuts every day on a long term basis could be the key to older people maintaining and even improving their memory and thinking skills.
Their study of more than 4,800 Chinese adults aged over 55 found that eating more than 10 grams of nuts a day – two teaspoons worth – was “positively associated” with better mental functioning -including improved thinking, reasoning and memory.
Lead researcher Dr Ming Li says the study is the first to report an association between cognition and nut intake in older Chinese adults, providing important insights into increasing mental health issues – including dementia – faced by an ageing population.
Dr Li, of the University of South Australia, said: “Population ageing is one of the most substantial challenges of the 21st Century.
“Not only are people living longer, but as they age, they require additional health support which is placing unprecedented pressure on aged-care and health services.
“In China, this is a massive issue, as the population is ageing far more rapidly than almost any other country in the world.
“Improved and preventative health care – including dietary modifications – can help address the challenges that an ageing population presents.
“By eating more than 10 grams – or two teaspoons – of nuts per day older people could improve their cognitive function by up to 60 per cent- compared to those not eating nuts – effectively warding off what would normally be experienced as a natural two-year cognition decline.”
China has one of the world’s fastest growing aging populations. In 2029, China’s population is projected to peak at 1.44 billion, with the ratio of young to old dramatically imbalanced by the rising ranks of the elderly.
By 2050, 330 million Chinese will be over age 65, and 90.4 million will be over age 80, representing the world’s largest population of this most elderly age group.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) forecats that by 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than five years old.
The new study analysed figures from the China Health Nutrition Survey collected over 22 years, finding that 17 per cent of participants were regular consumers of nuts, mostly peanuts.
Dr Li says peanuts have specific anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which can alleviate and reduce cognitive decline.
She said: “Nuts are known to be high in healthy fats, protein and fibre with nutritional properties that can lower cholesterol and improve cognitive health.
“While there is no cure for age-related cognition decline and neurogenerative disease, variations in what people eat are delivering improvements for older people.”
WHO estimates that, globally, the number of people living with dementia is at 47 million.
By 2030, the figure is projected to rise to 75 million and by 2050, global dementia cases are estimated to almost triple. China has the largest population of people with dementia.
Dr Li added: “As people age, they naturally experience changes to conceptual reasoning, memory, and processing speed.
“This is all part of the normal ageing process.
“But age is also the strongest known risk factor for cognitive disease.
“If we can find ways to help older people retain their cognitive health and independence for longer – even by modifying their diet – then this absolutely worth the effort.”
The findings were published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Ageing.