A new study finds that consuming wasabi daily may be a tasty way to improve memory, cognitive performance and mental processing skills in older people.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
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A recently published study examined the effects of daily consumption of wasabi, a traditional Japanese spice with several known anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, finding that it improved the memory of healthy adults over the age of 60. .
Decline in cognitive function is considered a natural part of the aging process which unfortunately can often profoundly impact daily life. Additionally, some memory loss can also be attributed to stress, fatigue, and illness. But more severe memory loss, along with other changes, may indicate dementia. For these reasons, considerable research efforts have focused on how to slow age-related cognitive decline.
Previous studies have identified specific lifestyle habits, exercise regimes and foods that can improve brain health. For example, specific diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, which include large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, have been found to significantly improve memory and cognition in older people.
Recent research has found that various herbs and spices, such as garlic and ginger, can improve cognition and memory in older adults – even those with dementia. Wasabi, a popular Japanese seasoning, wasabia japonica, also known as Japanese horseradish, is the source of the hot, pungent green paste traditionally served with sushi, and is used in nuts and other savory snacks. Wasabi is generally considered a healthy spice as it is known to help reduce inflammation in various parts of the body. It has also been reported to slow down cognitive decline due to its calming effect on the brain. For this reason, it is now sold as a supplement in many health food stores.
But are these claims about the alleged benefits of wasabi true? In this recent study, a team of cognitive health and aging researchers associated with a large number of institutions throughout Japan designed an experiment to test the cognitive benefits of wasabi. They recruited 72 Japanese volunteers aged between 60 and 80 years (average age 65) to participate as study subjects. The researchers examined people with known diseases, mental disorders, memory problems, and people who took certain medications or drank heavily. The remaining volunteers were randomly and unknowingly divided into two groups: one group was given wasabi tablets to take daily at bedtime, while the other group was given a placebo.
After the 3-month trial ended, researchers used standardized cognitive assessments to test participants’ mental processing speed, attention, short-term memory, working memory, episodic memory, executive functions, and visual-spatial abilities. Episodic memory refers to the memory of everyday events and working memory is the ability to keep information active in your mind for short periods of time.
The results of the trial found that the wasabi group showed “significantly” better performance in episodic and working memory than the placebo group. However, no significant improvements were seen in any of the other cognitive domains tested. In contrast, the placebo group showed no such improvement.
What makes wasabi so beneficial? It contains a chemical compound, 6 methylsulfinyl hexyl isothiocyanate (6-MSITC), which was previously linked to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The wasabi tablets that study participants took contained 100 mg of wasabi extract powder, which contained 0.8 mg of 6-MSITC.
The research team proposes that this chemical compound targets the hippocampus, an important area of the brain involved in memory. The compound 6-MSITC may work to reduce neuroinflammation, protect against oxidative damage in brain cells, and strengthen neuron connectivity. Its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and have direct effects on brain tissue and the hippocampus may also contribute to its potential cognitive-enhancing effects.
These promising findings underscore the growing evidence supporting the impact of nutrition on brain function and cognitive aging. The cognitive benefits of various foods such as wild blueberries, nuts, legumes and dark leafy greens have already been established. The discovery of wasabi’s potential in this regard highlights the possibility of developing targeted nutritional strategies to optimize brain health, particularly for older adults at risk for cognitive decline. However, before you go to a Japanese restaurant to taste wasabi, you should know that it is quite expensive (about $50/ounce), so most restaurant wasabi is horseradish that has been dyed green.
Rui Nouchi, Natasha YS Kawata, Toshiki Saito, Haruka Nouchi and Ryuta Kawashima (2023). Benefits of wasabi supplements with 6-MSITC (6-methylsulfinyl hexyl isothiocyanate) on memory functioning in healthy adults aged 60 years and older: evidence from a double-blind randomized controlled trial., Nutrients 15(21):4608 | doi:10.3390/nu15214608
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