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Can Diet Help Prevent Dementia?

Mediterranean Grilled Salmon

https://www.sizzlefish.com/blogs/recipes-to-try/mediterranean-marinated-salmon

Can your diet help prevent dementia?

A number of studies suggest that what you eat may help protect you from cognitive decline.[1], [2],  [3], [4]  Specifically, it appears that following the Mediterranean Diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, or the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet is associated with cognitive benefits.[5]  Researchers identified fish as the single most important dietary factor in lowering the risk of cognitive impairment and cognitive decline, with vegetables in second place.  Cognitive impairment is the risk that in 10 years, your cognition will be worse than your peers; cognitive decline is the risk that in 10 years, your cognition will be worse than it is now. [6]

Approximately 5.7 million people in the US currently have Alzheimer’s disease and about 50 million people worldwide have some form of dementia.[7]  Because there is currently no cure for dementia, the best we can do is try to prevent or delay its onset and slow cognitive decline. The three diets most studied in relation to reducing the likelihood of dementia are the Mediterranean diet, characterized by eating lots of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and fish; the DASH diet, developed to prevent and treat hypertension, which includes eating lots of plant-based foods and limiting saturated fatty acids; and the MIND diet, which was developed to try and prevent dementia, which is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets. 

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is a nutrition guide that was developed by the Oldways Preservation Trust, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the World Health Organization in 1993.[8]  Rather than a strict diet plan, it is more of an eating pattern with an emphasis on food traditions of Crete, Greece, and southern Italy during the mid-20th century, which had low rates of chronic disease and higher than average adult life expectancy.  Their health and longevity were assumed to be the result of a healthful diet of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, fish, olive oil, small amounts of dairy, and red wine.[9]  According to the Harvard Health website, you can’t substitute supplements for the nutrients you get when you eat minimally processed foods.  Supplements can fill the gaps (e.g., pregnant women should take folic acid, some people are prescribed calcium or Vitamin D because they are deficient) but may not be necessary in a healthy individual following a well-rounded diet.[10]  

The primary components of the three diets are shown below.

Components of the Mediterranean, DASH and MIND diets[11]

In a comprehensive review of the literature up to 2019, researchers examined 56 articles (including cross-sectional studies, a case-control study, longitudinal studies, and articles on intervention studies) that provide evidence of associations between the three diets with cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. The results of the review suggest that higher adherence to the Mediterranean, DASH, or MIND diets is associated with less cognitive decline and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.[12]

Yoga Classes

"Bayfront Park Miami- Free Yoga Classes" by Rafael Montilla SEO Latino is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Other Healthy Choices for a Healthy Brain

Diet is not the only lifestyle choice that can affect the health of your brain as you age, the list below includes other factors that contribute to your risk of dementia. [13], [14]

  • Regular exercise, even as little as two hours per week, may be one of the better ways to help prevent or slow cognitive decline.
  • Control blood pressure in midlife, keeping it below 120 if possible.
  • Use your brain – activities such as reading, learning a new skill or language, playing or listening to music, and doing crossword puzzles all stimulate and challenge your brain.
  • Reduce stress – studies show that a 12-minute yoga/meditation technique called Kirtan Kriya has had significant benefits,[15] including reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the brain.
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid junk food
  • Avoid sleeping pills
  • Drink alcohol in moderation

By following any one of these diets, you are eating well but also avoiding what is unhealthy.  A study published by scientists at the University of Exeter and presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2019 in Los Angeles, the risk of dementia was 32% lower in people with a high genetic risk if they had followed a healthy lifestyle, compared to those with an unhealthy lifestyle.  Those who reported eating a diet higher in sugar and salt, who got little exercise, and who smoked cigarettes were more likely to develop dementia.  Drinking at least one artificially sweetened drink per day was associated with a higher risk of dementia.[16]

It’s easy and healthy to include seafood in your diet

It doesn’t get easier than ordering up your favorite seafood, perfectly portioned, from Sizzlefish.  The FDA says fish and shellfish are part of a healthy eating pattern and provide protein; healthy omega-3 fatty acids; more vitamin B12 and vitamin D than any other type of food; iron which is important for infants, young children, and women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant; and other minerals like selenium, zinc, and iodine.  The FDA recommends that adults should eat two to three four-ounce servings of seafood per week.[17] [18] 

Follow a Mediterranean-style diet including fish several times per week to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and decline.  Among the fish and seafood that are good for you are catfish, cod, crab, flounder, haddock, lobster, salmon, sardines, scallops, shrimp, sole, squid, trout, and light tuna.

The FDA website displays this chart to help you select which fish to eat and how often:

Mercury Levels

Please Note: 

You should talk with your health care provider about any complementary health approaches you use, any major changes in exercise or diet, and any supplements you may be taking. This article is meant only to be educational.


[1]
  Ballarini, T., van Lent, D.M., Brunner, J., Schröder, A., Wolfsgruber, S., Altenstein, S., Brosseron, F., Buerger, K., Dechent, P., Dobisch, L., Duzel, E., Ertl-Wagner, B., Fliessbach, K., Freiesleben, S.D., Frommann, I., Glanz, W., Hauser, D., Haynes, J.D., Heneka, M.T., Janowitz, D., Kilimann, I., Laske, C., Maier, F., Metzger, C.D., Munk, M., Perneczky, R., Peters, O., Priller, J., Ramirez, A., Rauchmann, B., Roy, N., Scheffler, K., Schneider, A., Spottke, A., Spruth, E.J., Teipel, S.J., Vukovich, R., Wiltfang, J., Jessen, F., & Wagner, M. (2021) Mediterranean Diet, Alzheimer Disease biomarkers and brain atrophy in old age, Neurology, May 2021, https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000012067

[2]  Petersson, S.D., and Philippou, E. (2016). Mediterranean diet, cognitive function, and dementia:  a systematic review of the evidence.  Advances in Nutrition, 7(5):889-904. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.116.012138

[3]   van den Brink, A.C., Brouwer-Brolsma, E.M., Berendsen, A.A.M., and van de Rest, O. (2019). The Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diets Are Associated with Less Cognitive Decline and a Lower Risk of Alzheimer's Disease—A Review.  Advances in Nutrition, 10(6):1040–1065, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz054

[4]  Keenan, T.D., Agrón, E., Mares, J.A., Clemons, T.E., van Asten, F., Swaroop, A., and Chew, E.Y. (2020). Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and cognitive function in the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies 1 & 2. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 16(6):831-842. https://doi.org/10.1002/alz.12077

[5]  https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-do-we-know-about-diet-and-prevention-alzheimers-disease

[6]  Budson, A.E. (2020). What to eat to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Harvard Health Blog, May 20, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-to-eat-to-reduce-your-risk-of-alzheimers-disease-2020050819774

[7]  https://www.usagainstalzheimers.org/alzheimers-disease-get-facts?gclid=Cj0KCQjw7pKFBhDUARIsAFUoMDbaEaR4DEAl-fDaDb9rXn4D_d-xUKluNesPr2syIyTT6iuFltvYH8EaAneJEALw_wcB

[8]   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean_Diet_Pyramid

[9]   https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/mediterranean-diet/

[10]  https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-get-your-nutrients-from-food-or-from-supplements

[11]   van den Brink, A.C., Brouwer-Brolsma, E.M., Berendsen, A.A.M., and van de Rest, O. (2019). The Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diets Are Associated with Less Cognitive Decline and a Lower Risk of Alzheimer's Disease—A Review.  Advances in Nutrition, 10(6):1040–1065, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz054

[12]  van den Brink, A.C., Brouwer-Brolsma, E.M., Berendsen, A.A.M., and van de Rest, O. (2019). The Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diets Are Associated with Less Cognitive Decline and a Lower Risk of Alzheimer's Disease—A Review.  Advances in Nutrition, 10(6):1040–1065, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz054

[13]  https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/lifestyle-strategies-to-keep-brains-healthy-which-also-might-push-back-the-onset-of-dementia/2020/02/14/370599bc-3c81-11ea-baca-eb7ace0a3455_story.html

[14]  Khalsa, D. S., & Perry, G. (2017). The Four Pillars of Alzheimer's Prevention. Cerebrum : the Dana forum on brain science, 2017, cer-03-17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5501038/

[15]  Khalsa, D.S. (2015).  Stress, Meditation and Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention: Where the Evidence Stands. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 48:1–12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

[16]   Fottrell, Q. (2020). 5 ways to reduce your risk of developing dementia, according to new research. Marketwatch, Jan. 4, 2020.  https://www.marketwatch.com/story/a-major-new-study-suggests-its-possible-to-avoid-dementia-here-are-5-ways-to-reduce-your-risks-2019-07-15

[17]  https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish

[18]  https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish