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expert reaction to study looking at eating green leafy vegetables and rate of decline of memory and thinking skills

Researchers publishing in Neurology examine the association between consuming leafy green vegetables and a slower rate of brain aging.


Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

“It’s no secret that eating vegetables is good for your health.  This study found eating food rich in vitamin K – like spinach, kale, asparagus and everyone’s favourite, Brussels sprouts – appears to slow cognitive decline as people age.

“The researchers did not directly look at dementia, so we cannot say that it would delay or prevent the onset of the condition.  However, older people who ate one or two servings of vitamin K rich food per day performed better on memory tests than those who didn’t.  In fact, their scores were similar to those of people 11 years younger, irrespective of other factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and education level.

“What’s good for the heart is 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.  So make sure your Christmas dinner is piled high with greens this year!”


Dr David Llewellyn, Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Epidemiology, University of Exeter, said:

“These observations are consistent with a broader body of evidence suggesting that people adhering to a Mediterranean diet may reduce their risk of dementia.  Well-designed trials are needed in an attempt to reduce cognitive decline and dementia risk by improving diet and a wide range of additional lifestyle and clinical factors.”


Prof. Martin Rossor, NIHR National Director for Dementia Research, University College London Hospitals, said:

“This is another study of an association between diet and cognition.  The problem is always that association is not the same as causation and the size of the study is small.  Nevertheless the evidence to date is that ‘eating your greens’ is good for health.”


Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Fruits and vegetables are a key component of a nutritionally balanced diet, but figures suggest that many of us struggle to eat our five-a-day.  As well as helping to support our overall physical health, this research adds to evidence of a link between a diet rich in vegetables and a healthy brain.

“It is difficult to drill down to investigate whether a specific food or nutrient could hold particular benefits for memory and thinking skills, and this research doesn’t show that leafy, green vegetables promote brain health any more than other vegetables.

“Observational studies like this are not able to pinpoint cause and effect but can be extremely useful in giving us an idea of lifestyle factors that are associated with 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.

“As well as eating a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables, research points to a number of other lifestyle factors that could help support brain health into old age.  These include not smoking, staying mentally and physically active, keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check and only drinking in moderation.”


* ‘Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline’ by Martha Clare Morris et al. published in Neurology on Wednesday 20 December 2017. 


Declared interests

Prof. Martin Rossor: “No conflicts.”

None others received.

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