July 16, 2008

In The News: Nutritional Sensationalism

“Tofu ‘may raise risk of dementia,” BBC’s headline cries out.

Well, read further and you discover that’s a bit of a stretch.

A recent study published in the journal Dementias and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders discovered that “high tofu consumption - at least once a day - was associated with worse memory, particularly among [men and women over the age of 68.]”

It’s worth pointing out that this study only had 719 participants, all of whom lived in the urban and rural regions of Java, Indonesia.

In other words, this isn’t the type of research study that pulls too much weight.

According to the research, “phytoestrogens - in high quantity - may actually heighten the risk of dementia” among adults over the age of 65.

More specifically, it is believed that “phytoestrogens tend to promote growth among cells, not necessarily a good thing in the ageing brain.”

Very well.

But then we get to this jewel:

“A third theory is that damage is caused not by the tofu, but by formaldehyde, which is sometimes used in Indonesia as a preservative.”

I have read the study, which specifically mentions that formaldehyde “can induce oxidative damage to fontal cortex and hippocampal tissue.”

Interestingly, damage to the the frontal cortex manifests as the classic Alzheimer’s action of performing an action repeatedly several times, as well as a deterioration in complex reasoning.

Hippocampal tissue, meanwhile, is damaged by Alzheimer’s disease.

I really dislike the way the media presents these studies because they leave out crucial details and often times unfairly demonize a food that doesn’t deserve such a horrid reputation.

Even the lead researcher Professor Eef Hogervorst raises the "Don't be too tough on tofu" flag.

“[She] stressed that there was no suggestion that eating tofu in moderation posed a problem.”

Lastly, the overwhelming majority of research of nutrition and dementia points to plant-based diets rich in phytonutrients and whole grains to be the most effective at reducing risk.

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