Dementia: The iron-packed ‘superfood’ that boosts memory and ‘improves’ brain function

Dementia: Dr Sara on benefits of being in nature

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The death toll from dementia and Alzheimer’s in the past year has alarmed medical circles, but the burden of the dementing illness is set to grow further. Researchers are racing to develop disease-halting treatments, but to date, preventive measures are key to warding off mental decline. One superfood, packed with iron, could be key to staving off mental decline.

Around 55 million people in the world have dementia, but this number is expected to climb to 152 million in 2050, highlighting the pressing need for apt medical support.

Memory loss is the hallmark symptom of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease, but the condition may first present with changes in personality and behaviour.

Other changes in cognitive function may include language, social cognition, and visuospatial abilities.

Diet is undeniably influential in the course of mental decline, with researchers stressing the brain-protecting benefits of omega-3 and flavonoids.

READ MORE: Dementia: Three ‘staple’ foods that ‘hamper’ memory and induce cognitive impairment

Certain lesser-known superfoods, such as the mama root, may also have neuroprotective capabilities.

The maca root, which grows over 4000m altitude in the Peruvian Andes, has long been touted for its medicinal benefits.

A string of studies has shown that the root has positive effects on learning in experimental animal studies.

To confirm these effects, researchers have attempted to isolate and study the specific compounds from maca, such as macamides – which are thought to provide health benefits.

These nutrients, it is believed, may be able to provide preventive treatment for neurological damage, by protecting isolated neurons.

The most potent effects to date have been seen with the black variety of maca, with studies suggesting it may be the most influential for preventing memory loss.

In one study published in the journal Toxicology Mechanisms and methods in 2011, researchers observed: “Back maca improved experimental memory impairments induced by ethanol in a dose-response manner due, in part to its content of polyphonic compounds.”

These comments draw on evidence that polyphenols exert neuroprotective actions by shielding neurons from injury and suppressing inflammation.

This is why polyphenols have long been touted conservers of brain health, promoting memory, learning and cognitive function.

The findings of the study also suggested improvements in memory were down to the root’s ability to suppress oxidative stress.

“Cholinergic dysfunction is the primary effect observed in progressive less memory and dementia in the elderly,” explained the authors.

These findings were later echoed in a 2014 literature review that suggested maca could help treat conditions that affect memory, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Further research has highlighted the benefits it could hold for learning abilities, by aiding concentration.

A separate line of evidence has highlighted the fertility-enhancing benefits of maca, particularly for men.

This was illustrated in one 2016 review, which found the root may increase semen quality in both fertile and infertile men.

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