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7 July 2008 PR 08/104

Loughborough University research finds tofu linked to poorer memory

People who eat high levels of some soy products, including tofu and other so-called ‘superfoods’, may be at an increased risk of memory loss. 

Scientists from the Universities of Loughborough and Oxford, funded by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, worked with Indonesian colleagues to investigate the effects of high soy consumption in 719 elderly Indonesians living in urban and rural regions of Java.

The researchers’ findings, to be published in ‘Dementias and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders’ later this month, include evidence that a high consumption of tofu is associated with worsening memory, particularly among people aged 68 or older.

Lead researcher, Professor Eef Hogervorst of Loughborough University said: “Soy consumption is on the increase in the West and is often promoted as a ‘superfood’. Soy products are rich in micronutrients called phytoestrogens, but it is not entirely clear what their effect on the aging brain is.

“They have similar effects to oestrogen which may offer neuroprotection to the middle-aged and young but not to over 65s for whom it could heighten risk of dementia and lower memory function.”

Intriguingly, the researchers also found that consuming tempe, a fermented soy product made from whole soy bean, is associated with better memory.
Professor Hogervorst said the beneficial effect of tempe might be related to its high levels of folate, which is known to reduce dementia risk.

“It may be that that the interaction between high levels of both folate and phytoestrogens protects against cognitive impairment.”

Professor Hogervorst said future studies would investigate how folate or folic acid combined with phytoestrogens protects against memory dysfunction in the elderly.

Professor Hogervorst cautioned that the effects of tempe and tofu were most apparent in elderly Javanese people, so it is not clear how the findings relate to soy intake among all other ethnic groups. An earlier study found that older Japanese American men were also at increased risk of dementia with high tofu consumption.

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust said: “This study adds to our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Further research is needed to understand the full potential, and risks, of these ‘superfoods’.

“This kind of research into the causes of Alzheimer’s could lead scientists to new ways of preventing this devastating disease. As over half a million people have Alzheimer’s in the UK today, there is a desperate need to find a new prevention or cure.”


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Notes for editors:

  1. The Alzheimer’s Research Trust provides free information on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias: phone 01223 843899 or visit http://www.alzheimers-research.org.uk. The charity relies solely on public donations to fund its research.
  2. The paper ‘High Tofu Intake Is Associated with Worse Memory in Elderly Indonesian Men and Women’ is available now in the online version of Vol. 26, No. 1 of the journal Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, which will be out in print at the end of July.
  3. The researchers were: E. Hogervorst and A.Yesufu of the Department of Human Sciences, Loughborough University; P. Kreager of the Oxford Institute of Ageing, University of Oxford; T. Sadjimim of the University of Respati Health Institute, Yogyakarta; and T.B. Rahardjo of the Center for Health Research, University of Indonesia.
  4. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

    It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

    Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

    In the 2007 National Student Survey, the University was voted fourth in the UK, with 23 out of 29 of Loughborough’s subject areas being ranked in the top ten for overall satisfaction. Loughborough is also ranked in the top fifteen of UK universities in national league tables. It was named winner of the 2006 and 2007 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience and winner of the 2007 award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other university.

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