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The Takeaway: Eating Right, Avoiding Trans-Fats Keeps Older Brains Sharp; Obesity Tied To Greater Risk of Falls

Bad Diet Linked To Brain Shrinkage: Eating right isn't just about looking good or keeping illness at bay- it can also help your brain stay sharp as you age. A new study published in the journal Neurology found older adults with higher levels of certain vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids in their blood scored better on mental quickness tests than those whose diets were high in junk food and trans-fats. And a healthy diet was also linked with less brain shrinkage-a factor commonly associated with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

The links between good nutrition and brain health have been well-established, but most studies focus on one particular food or food group, instead of taking a comprehensive look. This research team, however, tested 30 different nutrient biomarkers.

They found study participants, (average age: 87) were less likely to perform well on cognitive tests if their diets were high in trans-fats, a common component of fast food, fried food and other unhealthy fare. But those with high levels of vitamins B, C, D and E, and  omega-3 fatty acids (most commonly found in fish and healthy oils) performed much better on cognitive tests and also exhibited less brain shrinkage.

"I'm a firm believer these nutrients have strong potential to protect your brain and make it work better," said study co-author Maret Traber.

See Also: Fish Reduces Alzheimer's Risk >> 

The researchers determined that nutrient status-which they measured based on blood nutrient levels instead of food questionnaires, for greater accuracy-accounted for 17 percent of the variation in cognitive test scores and 37 percent of the differences in brain volume.

"I think it's timely in that we have other studies showing a connection between, for example, overweight or obesity and dementia risk," said Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center. "You can see there is clearly a connection between what we eat and how well we think as we age."

Overweight Have More Falls: Falls are a major problem for older adults-it's estimated that more than a third of Americans 65+ suffer a fall each year. But while most people associate falls and fractures with thinness and frailty, it turns out that  overweight older adults are most at risk.

A new study conducted by New York's Syracuse University found overweight older adults were between 12 and 50 percent more likely to suffer a fall than their normal-weight peers, and the risk rose with level of obesity.

Christine Himes, study co-author, explained that "people who are obese may have a harder time with balance." And when they do lose their footing, they may be less able to react quickly and stop a fall.

See Also: What You Can Do to Prevent a Fall >> 

The most severely overweight, however-those with a BMI of 40 or higher- were somewhat less likely to be injured from a fall. Their risk of injury was one-third less than that of normal-weight counterparts.

Thursday Quick Hits: 

  • Savings bonds are going paperless. Starting next week, savings bonds will only be available for purchase on the U.S. Treasury website, ending a 76-year-old tradition of paper savings bonds.
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