Can a daily nutritious shake prevent memory loss? A new trial aims to answer that, and it’s looking for volunteers.

After years of studying the way Americans eat and the myriad health problems that stem from poor diets, lead researcher Susan Roberts said it’s time to be pragmatic.

“We can be purists and say that everyone should eat a perfect diet, but the reality is that for most people’s lives, it’s not going to work for them,” said Roberts, senior scientist at the Center for Nutrition Research at the Tufts USDA.

To be clear, Roberts encourages people to eat healthy, but she notes that this becomes more difficult with age because calories need to decrease, especially for older adults.

“Healthy diets are important,” Roberts said. “But let’s also have a plan B.”

The study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, will be conducted for one year, with plans to expand for another four years if data suggest the approach slows cognitive decline and participants can stick with the program.

Participants are asked to consume one of the shakes daily and record which flavor they chose (chocolate/vanilla, amaretto or orange cream) and how they prepared it. The product, which has about 180 calories, comes frozen and when thawed has the consistency of pudding. It can be consumed as is or mixed with liquid, such as almond milk, to create a smoothie.

To be eligible, participants must be between the ages of 55 and 85 and overweight or obese (a body mass index of 27 to 39.9, which translates to approximately 185 pounds to 270 pounds for a height of person of Haro, who is 5 feet, 9). inches.) Participants must also not have severe memory problems, problems with attention or thinking, or diabetes.

The study will separate participants into four groups: one receiving the shake supplement and a weight loss program, one receiving only the weight loss program, a third receiving the shake supplement but no weight loss intervention weight and a quarter that receives a placebo. supplement that looks and tastes similar to the study product, but does not contain the same nutrients. (Participants who do not receive the weight loss program during the trial are eligible afterward.)

Every few months, participants are expected to undergo standard memory tests, such as one that measures how many animals they can remember one minute after seeing pictures of them. The researchers will also examine blood flow in each participant’s brain using an imaging technique known as near-infrared spectroscopy, which provides an indirect measure of brain activity.

“There will be no magic bullet [to slow memory loss]but a comprehensive approach with weight loss, combined with substances that other studies have shown to have some results, may have relevance for older adults,” said Dr. Robert Russell, professor emeritus of nutrition at Tufts, who works on behalf of of the federal federation.regulators to monitor the safety and efficacy of the trial.

The specific ingredients of the shake are confidential to protect the integrity of the test. Roberts said it includes substances commonly found in “an extremely healthy diet” that are thought to support brain health, including fruits and vegetables, which contain substances known as flavonoids, as well as sources of healthy fats and protein skinny Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant and are thought to protect against cell damage.

Other energy drinks popularly marketed to older adults include essential nutrients, but are not in high enough volume to potentially delay memory loss, or may not include those thought to be specifically important for brain health, Roberts said.

Increasingly, research suggests that excess weight, especially as people age, may be associated with cognitive decline. And research on specific substances, such as flavonoids, found in fruits, certain teas, chocolate and other foods, suggests they may also be beneficial for brain health. But scientists are still discovering which flavonoids and in what amounts might be most effective.

“There are five thousand flavonoids identified in our food supply … so it’s very, very complex,” said John Erdman, professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who does not participate in the study. .

A 2020 analysis by British researchers of 17 studies on polyphenols, a substance found in plants that includes flavonoids, found “support for an association between polyphenol consumption and cognitive benefits,” but concluded that the link “is provisional, and by no means definitive”. The authors said more research is needed.

Scientists think flavonoids may help protect against inflammation and oxidative damage to brain cells, which may reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Another complicating factor in trying to identify specific nutrients and their effects on the brain, Erdman said, is all the other foods study participants may or may not be eating.

“People who consume fruits and vegetables and high foods [flavonoids] they don’t consume as much high saturated fat … and their risk of hypertension and diabetes is lower, so it could be something they’re not doing,” he said.

For now, de Haro, one of the study participants, said one thing he’s not doing is snacking as much at night because the daily smoothie supplement, which he prefers in pudding form, acts as a post-dinner dessert. dinner and fill it. .

“Satisfy your appetite for the rest of the night,” he said.

Roberts, the study’s lead author, put it this way: “This is designed so that people who don’t have a perfect diet have perfect nutrition,” he said. “Yes someone turns 65 today, you can expect to live another 20 years and you don’t want to live those 20 years with dementia.”

For more information about the study, call 1-800-738-7555 or visit

Kay Lazar can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.

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