For years, nutritionists and neurologists have been examining the link between the foods people eat and the risk of developing dementia. At the recent 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, experts presented evidence from four major studies that help firm our understanding of dietary choices that protect the brain.
In a resolution statement at the conference, which was held in London this year, the Association’s chief science officer, Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., stated “We are determined to develop and deliver a more specific recipe for Alzheimer’s risk reduction. We now can effectively prevent or treat heart disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS with combinations of drugs and lifestyle. The same may also be true for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in the not-too-distant future.”
The experts said that one-third of all cases of dementia could be prevented through lifestyle changes — and the role of diet received much attention in four studies:
- U.S. scientists looked at the data from the large Health and Retirement Study, and found that among 6,000 senior participants, those who followed the MIND diet, the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet had a 30 to 35 percent lower risk of cognitive impairment. People who follow these diets, which were originally developed to promote heart health, eat lots of veggies, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats such as olive oil, fish and poultry. They avoid eating too much red meat, refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats.
- Researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute reported that among 2,200 older adults, those who stuck to the Healthy Nordic Diet “enjoyed better cognitive status.” This diet includes veggies, fruits, poultry, vegetable oils, tea and moderate wine intake, and a low amount of animal fat and refined grains.
- Among the 7,000 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, those who followed an eating pattern such as the MIND diet were less likely to develop dementia, said researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This study found that even a modest improvement in diet lowered the risk for participants.
- Columbia University researchers reported that poor diet promotes inflammation, which causes premature shrinking of the brain and increased symptoms of dementia. An inflammation-related nutrient pattern included a high amount of cholesterol, and low intake of omega-3 and polyunsaturated fats.
Said Alzheimer’s Association scientist Keith Fargo, Ph.D. “Although the idea that a healthy diet can help protect against cognitive decline as we age is not new, the size and length of these four studies demonstrate how powerful good dietary practices may be in maintaining brain health and function.” However, said Fargo, “We must understand that what we eat is just one part of the puzzle. Adapting our lifestyles as we get older – for example by exercising regularly, watching what we eat and engaging in lifelong learning – is important in order to maximize the potential to reduce risk of cognitive decline and dementia.”
A July 17, 2017 news release from the Alzheimer’s Association explores these studies in more depth. If you have questions about the foods you should be eating, talk to your doctor about a diet that’s right for you.