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Scientists hope new soy flour will reduce dementia risk

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Scientists in Loughborough and Indonesia have developed a new soy-based flour product they hope will improve memory in older age and reduce the risk of dementia.

The flour originates from tempe – a fermented soy-based product similar to tofu used widely in Asian cooking. Tempe contains phytoestrogens (plant based hormones) and several B vitamins and has been shown in studies to be associated with improved memory function amongst the older population.

Eef Hogervorst, Professor of biological psychology in Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, has been working with her PhD student Atik Irsan and colleagues at the University of Indonesia and Bogor Agricultural University to develop a flour that retains the folate and cobalamin found in tempe.

Professor Hogervorst said:

“Our follow-up studies have shown that eating more tempe helps improve the memory of older people in Indonesia. We also found older rats who were given tempe had improved memory and fewer markers associated with dementia, such as plaques on the brain.

“Tempe can be chewy, which may make it more difficult for older people to eat it. By turning it into flour it gives us more ways of administering it; we can now use it in a liquid form, making it more accessible to the older population – those who would benefit most from tempe.

“We previously found that eating lots of tofu (which also contains phytoestrogens) in Indonesian elderly was associated with worse memory, similar to other studies in older Japanese Americans. It may be the case that the folate and cobalamin in tempe protect, allowing phytoestrogens to exert protective effects on the older brain.

“The next step is to see if we can repeat our initial findings in a Western population. If it works, it will be a major step towards preventing memory decline in old age.”  

The scientists have patented the flour’s manufacturing process, and plan to test it in nursing home settings in the UK and Indonesia to validate earlier findings of pilot studies.

Professor Hogervorst will be talking about this discovery and her other work involving exercise to delay the onset of dementia symptoms as part of her Dr Christopher Smith Memorial Lecture at Aston University at 7.30pm this evening (Wednesday 16 October).