Women Who Follow Traditional Japanese Diet Show Less Brain Decline Compared to Those on Western Diet, Study Reveals

by Ella

Recent research sheds light on the dietary impact on brain health, revealing that adhering to a traditional Japanese diet may mitigate brain atrophy, particularly in women. While the association between dietary patterns and cognitive function has been extensively studied, this investigation delves into the nuanced gender differences in dietary effects on brain health.

The study, led by psychologist Giovanni Sala from the University of Liverpool in the UK and Zhang Shu from the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology in Japan, explored the cognitive implications of the traditional Japanese diet, known as washoku. This diet is characterized by a rich array of ingredients such as soybeans, miso, seaweed, and mushrooms, with minimal inclusion of red meat.


Drawing inspiration from the preventive effects of the Mediterranean diet on brain shrinkage, Sala and his team embarked on a comprehensive study involving 1,636 Japanese individuals aged 40 to 89. Participants were tasked with documenting their dietary intake through photos and food diaries over a three-day period. The researchers categorized diets into three groups: traditional Japanese, typical Western, and a plant-based diet rich in fruits and dairy.


Analysis of MRI brain scans conducted over a two-year period revealed a notable finding: women adhering to the traditional Japanese diet exhibited less brain atrophy compared to those consuming a Western diet. Interestingly, this protective effect was not observed in men following the same dietary pattern, as they experienced similar reductions in brain size regardless of diet.


Two potential explanations for this gender disparity emerged from the analysis. Firstly, biological differences may account for varying responses to dietary components, such as phytoestrogens and magnesium, which could offer greater neuroprotective effects in women. Secondly, differences in dietary habits between genders, including higher prevalence of negative lifestyle factors like smoking among men, may influence the observed outcomes.


The traditional Japanese diet, abundant in vitamins, polyphenols, phytochemicals, and unsaturated fatty acids, presents a nutritional profile conducive to optimal brain health. These nutrients possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, crucial for maintaining brain tissue integrity and neuronal function.

While the study underscores the potential benefits of incorporating elements of the traditional Japanese diet into daily meals, further research is warranted to elucidate the underlying mechanisms driving gender-specific dietary effects on brain health. Nevertheless, integrating staples such as seafood, soy, miso, seaweed, and shiitake mushrooms into dietary routines may not only enhance cognitive function but also promote overall well-being, as advocated by Sala and his colleagues.



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