Diet may improve cognition, slow aging, and help protect against cosmic radiation

Eating certain foods can help protect you from heart disease, some types of cancers and other illnesses. But can your diet also help protect your brain if you should suffer a stroke or accidental head injury? Or keep your thinking and memory skills strong as you age?

Some scientists believe it might. They even think eating the "right" foods --specifically, those high in antioxidants -- may help defend astronauts from brain-damaging cosmic rays on future manned missions to Mars.

New research also suggests that some of the environmental chemicals that have gotten into many of our foods -- through the application of herbicides and insecticides, for example, or from the leaching of plasticizers from plastic food containers -- may be harmful to children. This is because of the chemicals' effect on reproductive development and their impact on brain areas involved in thinking and learning. Still other studies are beginning to shed some light on the neurological reasons why men tend to have an easier time than women at losing unwanted weight.

"The role of diet in cognitive function is one of the vastly understudied areas in the neurosciences," says Carl W. Cotman, PhD, of the University of California-Irvine. "As these recent studies show, significant new findings are appearing which highlight the importance of this research on diet and cognitive function."

Eating an antioxidant-rich diet may help keep cognitive skills strong during old age, according to a recent animal study conducted at the University of Toronto. "We found that old dogs that were on an antioxidant diet performed better on a variety of cognitive tests than dogs that were not on the diet," says P. Dwight Tapp, PhD, now of the University of California Irvine, "In fact, the dogs eating the antioxidant-fortified foods performed as well as young animals."

Antioxidants include vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta carotene (a form of vitamin A), as well as other minerals and co

Contact: Dawn McCoy
Society for Neuroscience

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