The increasing global life expectancy intensifies public health concerns, particularly regarding cognitive decline. Research is turning to nutrition to support brain functions, an essential step in improving the quality of life for older adults. Specific diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, are known for their favorable impact on memory and overall cognitive abilities. Systematic reviews have also confirmed that regular consumption of fruits and vegetables enhances brain functions in healthy seniors.
In this context, a recent study has revealed a surprising link between wasabi, known for its pungent flavor, and the improvement of cognitive functions in individuals over 60 years of age. Beyond its traditional role in Japanese cuisine, this spice appears to be an unexpected ally against cognitive aging. The compounds it contains are said to enhance memory, as revealed by the study conducted by researchers from Tohoku University and published in the journal Nutrients.
Currently, there is a growing interest in the beneficial properties of spices and herbs for health. For instance, ginger and garlic are associated with improved cognitive functions, even in elderly individuals with dementia. These ingredients, commonly used to enhance flavor, mask other tastes, or color dishes, are now being studied for their positive influence on cognition.
Wasabi, or Eutrema japonicum, is an iconic Japanese spice appreciated for its unique taste. Its primary bioactive component, 6-methylsulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate (6-MSITC), belongs to the isothiocyanate family. It is recognized for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Previous studies have suggested that antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents play a significant role in the cognitive health of older individuals (and beyond). Therefore, 6-MSITC is expected to have a positive effect on the cognitive performance of older adults.
Tests Shedding Light on Wasabi’s Impact on Memory
The present study involved a group of 72 adults aged over 60, closely monitored over a three-month period. These participants were randomly divided into two distinct groups, with one group receiving a daily tablet containing wasabi extract, while the other group received a placebo tablet, with participants unaware of what they were taking.
The results, measured at the end of the experiment, revealed that the group treated with wasabi showed significant improvements in tests evaluating episodic memory, which involves the ability to recall past events, as well as working memory, which is necessary for temporarily holding information.
However, researchers did not observe improvements in other areas of cognitive function, including reasoning, attention, or information processing speed. The research team suggests that the beneficial effects of wasabi, specifically the 6-MSITC compound, may target the hippocampus, a crucial brain region for memory.
In practical terms, this molecule could play a role in modulating neuroinflammation and protecting against oxidative damage in brain cells, benefiting neuron connectivity. These effects might be related to the 6-MSITC’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, directly reaching brain tissue and the hippocampus. By targeting molecular pathways that support neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity, this compound could help maintain or improve cognitive functions, especially in seniors.
Towards Targeted Nutrition for Senior Memory?
The promising results of the study on wasabi and senior cognitive health are cause for optimism, but scientists urge caution. They emphasize the importance of further research to validate these preliminary findings and elucidate the involved biological processes. Indeed, no antioxidant or anti-inflammatory biomarkers were measured, so we can only hypothesize about the effects of wasabi for now.
Despite these reservations, integrating wasabi into the diets of older individuals could be beneficial based on these preliminary results. If confirmed, its potential could be harnessed as part of an integrated and balanced dietary strategy aimed at optimizing overall brain health.