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Cheese may contain nutrients that prevent cognitive decline

A recent study published in the journal Nutrients suggests that regular cheese consumption may promote better cognitive health among older adults. 

The research is part of a growing collection of evidence that dietary habits are not just important for physical health, but also for mental well-being.

Food intake and cognitive function 

“In particular, there is increased interest in the relationship between food intake and cognitive function,” wrote the researchers.

“Previous studies have shown that a dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of soybean products, vegetables, seaweed, milk, and dairy products, together with a low intake of grain products, is associated with reduced risk of developing dementia; moreover, a high intake of milk and dairy products reduces the risk of developing dementia, especially Alzheimer’s dementia.”

However, lead author Hunkyung Kim of the Gaon Research Center and co-authors noted that further studies are needed to determine the role of dairy intake in cognitive function. 

How the research was conducted 

The team analyzed data from a broader geriatric survey that the researchers conducted biennially. The study was focused on 1,504 older adults in Tokyo, Japan. 

The dietary habits of the participants were meticulously assessed, with cheese consumption being the focal point. Cognitive capabilities were evaluated using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), a popular tool for gauging cognitive function in older adults. 

For this study, an MMSE score below 24 was considered a marker for diminished cognitive functioning.

What the researchers discovered 

Once variables such as age, physical activity, and overall diet were accounted for, it became apparent that participants who consumed cheese regularly were less likely to score 23 or below on the MMSE. 

The data also showed that cheese consumers generally had more varied diets. Still, this dietary diversity did not invalidate the link between cheese consumption and cognitive health.

“In the present study, the cheese intake group had significantly higher dietary variety scores than the non-cheese intake group,” wrote the study authors. 

“This result may suggest that the inverse association between cheese intake and lower cognitive function may be due to the likelihood that subjects with cheese intake had a dietary habit of consuming a wide variety of foods rather than the specific nutrients contained in cheese.” 

“However, multiple logistic regression analysis uncovered that dietary variety score was not distinguished as a significant independent variable for lower cognitive function, indicating that the possibility that cheese contains specific nutrients which support cognitive function still cannot be denied.”

Dairy products

The researchers detected no association between the frequency of milk consumption and MMSE scores of 23 or less. “On the other hand, cheese intake was found to be a factor that was inversely associated with lower cognitive function,” they said. 

“A previous study using logistic regression analyses showed that a 30 g increase in Dutch cheese intake was associated with a 33% lower probability of poor information processing speed, whereas dairy intake was not associated with attention and working memory or episodic memory.”

The experts also noted that a large cohort study of community-dwelling older adults showed that cheese, among other dairy products, was positively associated with the executive function domain.

Study limitations 

The study isn’t without its limitations. Its cross-sectional nature means it captured data at only one specific time, making it hard to deduce cause-and-effect relationships. 

The reliance on participants self-reporting their cheese intake also raises concerns about potential inaccuracies or recall biases. Moreover, the MMSE score threshold used to indicate reduced cognitive function might differ from other research standards.

Preliminary findings

In their conclusion, the researchers stressed the preliminary nature of their findings:

“Although the present study was an analysis of cross-sectional data of Japanese community-dwelling older adults, the results suggest that cheese intake is inversely associated with lower cognitive function even after adjusting for multiple confounding factors.”

The experts note that dementia prevention has become an urgent issue as the proportion of the older population with dementia continues to rise.

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