Can a Healthy Diet Prevent Dementia? What the Science Says
By Catherine Escher and Rowena Gomez, PhD (Palo Alto University)
We all know that eating healthy is good for our bodies as we age, but did you know that eating certain foods may reduce your risk of dementia? Science shows some promising results.
Recently, research on healthy aging has examined the relationships between diet, dementia, and cognitive decline. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH Diet) and the Mediterranean Diet have been used in interventions to improve brain health and function. These two diets were initially used to improve heart and general health. And two studies showed that cognitive performance improved after participants followed the DASH (Smith et al., 2010) and Mediterranean Diets (Martínez-Lapiscina et al., 2013).
Inspired by the DASH and Mediterranean Diets, Morris and colleagues (2015) combined the best of both of these diets and added a few items shown to improve brain health (i.e., green leafy vegetables and berries) to see whether a new diet could reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults. The result was the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay).DASHMediterraneanMINDGrains≥7/day Whole grains≥4/day≥3/dayVegetables≥4/day≥4/day Green leafy vegetables≥6/day Other vegetables≥1/day Potatoes>2/dayFruits≥4/day>3/day Berries≥2/weekDairy≥2/day Full-fat dairy≤10/week Cheese<1/weekMeat, poultry and fish≤2/day≤1/week Red meats & products≤1/week≤4/week Fish>6/week≥1/week Poultry≤3/week≥2/weekNuts, seeds, legumes≥4/day>6/week Beans>3/week Nuts≥5/weekFast/fried food<1/weekAlcohol/wine<300 ml/day but >01/daySweets≤5/week Pastries, sweets<5/weekSodium2400 mg/dayTotal fat≤27% of kcal Saturated fat≤6% of kcal Olive oil≥1/dayUsed as primary oil Butter/margarine<1 Tbsp/day
Source: Martha Clare Morris, et al. (2015)
Morris and her colleagues studied eating patterns of 923 older adults over a period of about 4.5 years to see whether they developed Alzheimer’s disease. The results? Those who successfully followed any of the three diets were significantly less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who did not.
Despite slight differences, the common ingredients between these diets are high amounts of vegetables and low amounts of processed foods containing saturated fats. The main take-away being that a healthy diet consisting of natural, plant-based foods may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
It is important to note that these research findings do not prove that eating certain foods will prevent dementia. Despite this, we still recommend a diet high in vegetables and low in processed foods to our family members who are concerned about cognitive decline as they get older. The only potential “side effects” of eating healthier are a healthier body and mind – so eat up!
Devore, E. E., Kang, J. H., Breteler, M., & Grodstein, F. (2012). Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Annals of neurology, 72(1), 135-143.
Martínez-Lapiscina, E. H., Clavero, P., Toledo, E., Estruch, R., Salas-Salvadó, J., San Julián, B., … & Martinez-Gonzalez, M. Á. (2013). Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 84(12), 1318-1325.
Morris, M. C., Evans, D. A., Tangney, C. C., Bienias, J. L., & Wilson, R. S. (2006). Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change. Neurology, 67(8), 1370-1376.
Morris, M. C., Tangney, C. C., Wang, Y., Sacks, F. M., Bennett, D. A., & Aggarwal, N. T. (2015). MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 11(9), 1007-1014.
Smith, P. J., Blumenthal, J. A., Babyak, M. A., Craighead, L., Welsh-Bohmer, K. A., Browndyke, J. N., … & Sherwood, A. (2010). Effects of the dietary approaches to stop hypertension diet, exercise, and caloric restriction on neurocognition in overweight adults with high blood pressure. Hypertension,55(6), 1331-1338.
Catherine Escher is a first year Clinical Psychology PhD student at Palo Alto University. Ms. Escher’s research interests include neuropsychology and healthy aging.
Dr. Rowena Gomez is Director of Clinical Training for the PhD Clinical Psychology Program and Associate Professor at Palo Alto University. Dr. Gomez’s research focus has been in geropsychology, neuropsychology, and depression.
Image source: Flickr user A Healthier Michigan via Creative Commons