Dementia is fiendishly difficult to prevent because the brain’s machinery is complex and full of unknowns. Yet much progress has been made in advancing our collective understanding of the contributors to brain decline. Yet researchers are still at the foot of a very large hill.
Diet often comes under the microscope because specific items have been shown to accelerate brain decline.
Although it is hard to establish a causal link between impaired cognitive ability and the development of dementia, it is an area ripe for exploring and researchers have turned up some concerning associations.
One of the most worrying findings to come out in recent years tied chilli consumption to memory decline.
The association sparked much concern because memory decline is the predominant feature of dementia.
The study, led by doctor Zumin Shi, examined the association between chilli intake and cognitive function in Chinese adults.
The study was conducted on 4852 adults attending the China Health and Nutrition Survey during 1991 and 2006.
The China Health and Nutrition Survey examines the nutritional and health status of the Chinese population.
Cognitive function was assessed in 1997, 2000, 2004 and 2006. In total, 3,302 participants completed cognitive screening tests in at least two surveys.
Chilli intake was assessed by a three-day food record during home visits in each survey between 1991 and 2006.
The study found evidence of faster cognitive decline in those who consistently ate more than 50 grams of chilli a day.
It “showed that those who consumed in excess of 50 grams of chilli a day had almost double the risk of memory decline and poor cognition,” reported the Alzheimer’s Society.
However, the findings are far from conclusive, noted doctor Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society.
Doctor Walton said at the time: “With global dementia figures rising, understanding risk factors, especially those relevant to large populations like China, is certainly a hot topic to help us develop prevention strategies – something our researchers are working on all the time.
“But there were so many differences between the chilli lovers and abstainers in this study that it doesn’t give any conclusive evidence that eating spicy food will increase your risk of dementia.”
“Further research is needed to confirm a link between chilli and dementia so, for now, there’s no need to avoid the hot sauce.
“This study didn’t assess dementia either – it only looked at memory and math test results.”
Research shows there are more than 850,000 people in the UK who have dementia.
One in 14 people over the age of 65 have dementia, and the condition affects one in six people over 80.
The number of people with dementia is increasing because people are living longer. It is estimated that by 2025, the number of people with dementia in the UK will be more than one million.