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Universiteit Leiden

Eat nuts to not go nuts!

Eat nuts to not go nuts!

Nuts are well known for its healthy fats, nutrients and vitamins but how can eating nuts possibly help us to boost our memory functions and recover memory ability in case of dementia?

Dementia, which symptoms include progressive and frequent memory loss, is the umbrella term for common neurodegenerative diseases of the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease. Around 46.8 million people around the world are living with dementia and about 10 % of the people will develop dementia at some point in their life with dramatically increasing risks after the age of 65. Due to the trend of people growing older, it was estimated that the number of diagnosed people will double every 20 years. Therefore, finding a way to reduce risk factors of dementia and even to reverse its effects has gained in importance. One possible preventive action might be the consumption of nuts.

Brains affected from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease often show a lack of certain neurotransmitters, for example acetylcholine. Along with dopamine it is one of the two main excitatory neurotransmitters. It is involved in learning, memory abilities, attention and concentration. Over the course of years, the brain acetylcholine concentration can decrease. Especially post-menopausal women and people exposed to great and enduring stress and unbalanced diets are at risk to show diminished levels of acetylcholine. Choline is a precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Since it cannot be synthetized by the body, it has to be obtained from the ingestion of certain food groups. One delicious source are nuts. When ingested, choline is taken through the blood brain barrier where it is then synthesized by the enzyme choline acetyltransferase into acetylcholine. But can choline intake via the ingestion of nuts increase the acetylcholine levels and improve memory?

In an experimental study, Batool and colleagues investigated whether receiving an almond suspension for four weeks would have an effect on memory abilities in healthy and in chemically induced age- related amnestic rats. The results were astonishing: They found an increase in acetylcholine concentration in the hippocampus and frontal cortex. Both areas are known to be highly implicated in learning and memory processes and are also areas severely damaged during the course of Alzheimer’s disease. Further, the healthy rats receiving the almond suspension showed enhanced memory capacities and the amnesia induced rats exhibited a reversal of their induced age-related memory loss, suggesting an involvement of cholinergic function in memory retention and enhancement.

Partly supporting results were found in a previous study by Knott et al. concerning the effects of choline supplementation on memory performance in healthy human adults. Chemical substances with a choline component improved memory functioning in low performing individuals. These results point to the memory enhancing effects of choline in people with mild cognitive impairments and thus implicate protective properties of choline supplementation in people at risks for deficiencies. However, further research on the topic is needed since there are still a lot of uncertainties about the effects of dietary choline supplementation on memory in humans. Keeping in mind the great potential it could have to help people with dementia, it is definitely worth to keep investigating.

Regardless the remaining open questions concerning the mechanisms behind choline intake, it can safely be said that nuts, regularly in a decent amount consumed, are a great source of nutrients and may serve as a good precaution to keep your brain from going nuts.

 

Batool, Z., Sadir, S., Liaquat, L., Tabassum, S., Madiha, S., Rafiq, S.,... & Perveen, T. (2016). Repeated administration of almonds increases brain acetylcholine levels and enhances memory function in healthy rats while attenuates memory deficits in animal model of amnesia. Brain research bulletin, 120, 63-74.

Knott, V. et al. (2015). Neurocognitive effects of acute choline supplementation in low, medium and high performer healthy volunteers. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 131, 119–129. 

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