It may not be an apple a day that keeps the doctor away, but rather an egg, as new findings suggest that egg consumption may play a role in protecting the brain as we move into old age.

A study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland has found that dietary intake of phosphatidylcholine - which in the case of the study’s participants was primarily derived from eating eggs and meat, is associated with lower risks of developing dementia. The researchers also noted that phosphatidylcholine was also linked with enhanced cognitive function.

The data for this latest study came from the Kuopio Ishaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, designed to investigate risk factors for cardiovascular disease, athelerosclerosis and related outcomes in a randomly selected sample of men in eastern Finland.

Between 1984 and 1989, the dietary and lifestyle habits, and health in general, of 2,500 Finnish men aged 42 and 60 was analyzed. Data were combined with their hospital records, cause of death and medication reimbursement records after an average follow-up period of 22 years. In addition, after four years from the study's start, approximately 500 men completed tests measuring their memory and cognitive processing.

Food for thought

Choline is an essential nutrient which usually occurs in food in various compounds, with eggs and chicken meat being among the richest sources of commonly consumed foods. Choline is necessary for the formation of acetylcholine - a neurotransmitter.

Studies had already linked choline intake with cognitive processing, and adequate intake may, it is now thought, play a role in the prevention of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

During the follow-up, 337 men developed dementia. The study found that the risk of dementia was 28% lower in men with the highest intake of dietary phospatidylcholine when compared with men with the lowest intake. Those with the highest intake also excelled in tests measuring their memory and linguistic abilities.

More than 50 million people worldwide suffer from a memory disorder that has led to dementia, and this number is expected to grow. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, for which there is no cure. The new findings may, therefore, play a role in dementia’s prevention, but further study is needed, the research team notes.

While choline can be made in the body it is not enough to support health, and must, therefore, be consumed in the diet. The good news is that choline-rich foods are relatively easy to find and, for most, affordable. The key sources of phospatidycholine in the study population’s diets were eggs (39%) and meat of various kinds (37%).