Spinach, Brussels sprouts and kale can help reduce dementia risk

A new scientific report finds leafy green vegetables help preserve memory skills

Eating leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, asparagus and Brussels sprouts every day can cut the risk of dementia and improve memory skills sharply, a new scientific report has found.

The study, published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology on Wednesday, found that memory test scores of leafy greens-eating elderly equal people 11 years younger.

The daily dosages of green vegetables are rich in vitamin K, which is believed to help people preserve their memory and thinking skills as they age, researchers at Rush University medical centre in Chicago reported.

The better memory scores found among nearly 1,000 people, who have been tested regularly since 1997, were recorded irrespective of obesity, high blood pressure or education.


The study was carried out by the Rush Memory and Aging project that began in 1997 among residents of retirement communities and senior public housing complexes around Chicago in the US.

Participants were 81 years old when they were first tested and did not have dementia. Cognitive and memory skills were tested every year for the following five years..

Over 10 years of follow-up tests the rate of decline for those who ate the most leafy greens was slower than those who ate the smallest number of greens, researchers found.

Dr James Pickett, head of research at the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society, said the research did not directly examine dementia, but it did show that eating plenty of leafy green vegetables was “good for the head”.

“A healthy diet rich in essential nutrients, combined with regular exercise and avoiding smoking, can help to reduce your risk of developing dementia,” he said.

Dr Sara Imarisio from the UK’s Alzheimer’s Research group said leafy greens were key, but warned that the figures showed many people struggled to eat five portions of fruit and vegetable daily.

While the research did not highlight one single food, or nutrient with particular benefits above all of the rest, Dr Imarisio highlighted its importance for scientists studying lifestyle habits linked to good health

“Future studies will need to explore how leafy, green vegetables might contribute to brain function or if there is any link to whether people develop dementia,” Dr Imarisio said.

“Besides eating leafy greens to stay well in late age, people should not smoke stay as mentally and physically active as possible, keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check and drink in moderation.”

Accepting that the research is not proof eating green, leafy vegetables slows ageing, author Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Rush medical centre, said the results did show an association.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast