In 2006 a commission of the European Space Agency visited the Fundació Alícia. They wanted to know what they could feed their astronauts. It was not so much to offer them the best "pills" to meet their nutritional needs, but to give them real foods that they could recognize and taste. They had detected that it was of great importance for the mental health of the crew of the International Space Station (ISS), who spent a lot of time alone, away from home, from their families, who could take real food. , that binds them emotionally to Earth.
"What we eat is a no-brainer. We build ourselves eating, from the point of view of the machinery of the organism, of the neuronal connections, at the physiological level. But food also has associated meanings and emotions, "explains Toni Massanés, head of the Alicia Foundation. Diet affects emotions and emotions, diet. And that applies, above all, in the third age.
"There is malnutrition caused by the feeling of loneliness," says this gourmet. The most pressing example is the elderly, especially women, who when left alone, stop cooking and barely eat. Or they do it almost by obligation. His diet suffers and that has been seen to accelerate the process of cognitive degeneration associated with the elderly.
The problem, in addition, is increasing. In Spain, two out of every 10 people are over 65 years old, a proportion that is expected to continue growing in the next few years, largely thanks to medical advances. But, how to help prevent and slow down the loss of intellectual abilities associated with age and diet? Experts from various fields met at the Alícia Foundation last week, as part of the first days on nutrition for healthy aging, to try to answer this question.
"The diet clearly affects how the brain works and also how it ages," says Mercè Boada, medical director of the ACE Foundation, Institut català de neurosciències aplicades. Although it only accounts for 2% of body weight, it consumes 25% of the calories we eat. And like the rest of organs, it needs certain nutrients to function optimally, create neurotransmitters, maintain structures, generate the energy it requires.
"We need to eat and that food nourish us and provide us with the necessary components to stop cognitive deterioration", highlights Boada, who adds that in studies carried out with people from 55 and 75, it has been seen that with the age, nutrition is deficient in nutrients. "It becomes very monotonous, based on a few ingredients that are always the same. And that contributes in a way to cognitive decline ", he emphasizes and emphasizes that there is ample scientific evidence that shows that" eating varied, healthy, can be used as a preventive strategy for the loss of cognition, of intellectual capacity during aging ".
In this sense, the ACE Foundation is carrying out a study with 200 people who analyze their intestinal microbiota, the more than 100 billion microbes that inhabit mainly in the colon. The objective is to decipher its role in the absorption of food and in the distribution of nutrients. "Depending on the diet you can go into a process of inflammation and it is known that chronic systemic inflammation is a risk factor for many diseases, including Alzheimer's," says Boada.
Although she will present the conclusions of this study later, this fall, the scientific director of the ACE Foundation advances that they have already verified that a variety of fibers, present in vegetables and fruits, are needed for the microbiota to be well nourished and varied. And that, in turn, allows the person to have amino acids and be well nourished. "The circle closes. In the end the whole organism works so that a single organ, the brain, can work ", summarizes the medical director of this Foundation.
Francisco Guarner, researcher at the Vall d'Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) is one of the world's experts in intestinal microbiota. For this gastroenterologist, it is not so much what you eat, but what you stop eating. "What you do not eat makes you lose diversity in microbiota. The bacteria that resist are those that live more than the intestinal wall, feeding on the intestinal mucus, and inducing inflammatory states, "he explains and adds that diets that incorporate nuts, vegetables, fish," is associated with older people with less deterioration cognitive, better memory, ability to observe ".
The relationship is bidirectional: loneliness, which influences depression, agitation, apathy, causes many people to nurture badly. And mental illness, in turn, make the nutrition of people is not appropriate. "With age there are a series of physiological changes that make older people lose their sense of taste and with it, the desire to cook and eat. And in the end they end up taking the grilled chicken and a yogurt. What affects their global health and, above all, brain, "says Boada.
The solution, agreed the experts of these days in pointing out, is to return the pleasure of eating to the elderly. And that happens through the social environment, above all. "If they can be accompanied, that they are cooked well, they are offered a good agape, with the table well placed, the food well prepared, that seduce, that helps to combat loneliness and aging. Sharing a meal with others, that which is so Mediterranean, makes us eat better and is a crucial neurological factor of cognitive stimulation, "says this neurologist.
Besides the company, there is pleasure. Many elderly or sick people are unable to swallow food and that is coupled with a loss of interest in food. "They often have to face physiological, psychosocial changes, home relocation, hospital admissions. It is about trying to alleviate those situations and try to encourage the person to recover the interest to eat. It is not only that the food that is taken is nutritionally balanced, but that the grandparents are motivated, in company ", emphasizes Fabiola Juárez, nutritionist and agronomist specialized in food industry of the Alicia Foundation, who investigates how to endow crushed food with textures to make them attractive again. For example, when crushing a paella, serve it in a small paella pan, plating simulating a mussel or grinding in parts. "We have to make food continue to provoke emotions, to work with the pleasure of the dish," he says.
And, as astronauts hundreds of kilometers from Earth, as humans age we also need to be accompanied sharing and enjoying a good agape. Not in vain we are social animals and we need others. Also to maintain good mental health.
Source: La Vanguardia