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Eating More of This One Food Could Lower Your Risk of Dementia, Study Says

A new study is touting the potentially groundbreaking brain benefits of soy.

When it comes to taking care of your health, there will always be foods you should eat sparingly to take care of your body as you age. But it also turns out that there are some everyday products that could be giving you a health boost by including it in more meals on a regular basis. According to a new study, eating more soy could greatly lower your risk of dementia—and end up helping you live longer as a result.

The research, which was recently published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions, studied a group of 91 elderly people in Japan who displayed normal cognitive abilities despite their age. Blood testing found that a person's ability to produce equol—a digestive byproduct of dietary soy created by certain types of gut bacteria—were less likely to show white matter lesions in their brain that could lead to neurological issues and cognitive decline. (Related: 21 Best Healthy Cooking Habits of All Time.)

"White matter lesions are significant risk factors for cognitive decline, dementia, and all-cause mortality," Akira Sekikawa, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health and lead study author said in a statement. "We found 50% more white matter lesions in people who cannot produce equol compared to people who can produce it, which is a surprisingly huge effect."

Dr. Sekikawa also pointed out that test subjects being based in Japan, where soy is a major staple of regular diets, was likely an important factor. He believes that 40 to 70% of the Japanese population harbors the gut bacteria that produce equol, whereas only 20 to 30% of Americans do.

Dr. Sekikawa also said that with further research, he believes that the use of equol supplements in conjunction with other cognitive-function-boosting eating regimens, such as the Mediterranean diet or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) method, could be administered to lower the onset of dementia in at-risk patients.

This is not the first work Dr. Sekikawa has done that shows the benefits of including more soy in your diet. His previous work found that patients who can produce equol were also less likely to suffer from heart disease than those who did not.

So how can you get more soy into your diet to boost your brain health? Experts say incorporating more tofu into dishes such meatless chilis or stews, ordering and preparing more miso soup, adding soynuts to salad and baked goods, and using soy milk in place of traditional milk in recipes and over cereal in the morning can be easy ways to start. Get started by learning the difference between good and bad soy.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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