New studies suggest that eating well could improve brain function
Eating well may help protect your brain in old age, according to a group of four new studies.
In particular two studies concluded that the Intervention Diet for Mediterranean Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) -DASH reduced the risk of dementia in people.
The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, both originally designed to help improve heart health.
Older people who followed the MIND diet carefully had a 35 percent lower risk of declining brain function as they aged.
Even people who half complied with the MIND diet reduced their risk of brain decline by 18 to 24 percent.
"We always say that a healthy heart is a healthy brain," said Dean Hartley, director of scientific initiatives for the Alzheimer's Association.
"The brain uses 20 percent of the cardiac output to get oxygen and glucose. If it does not pump well, it deprives the brain of many things it needs to maintain its normal function," he said.
A heart-healthy diet also protects blood vessels within the brain, which reduces the likelihood of mini-strokes or other problems that could affect brain function, said Dr. Marc Gordon, head of neurology at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glean Oaks, New York.
"What is good for the blood vessels of the heart is good for the blood vessels of the brain," Gordon said.
The DASH diet seeks to reduce blood pressure by encouraging the consumption of foods low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol. People are asked to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts, and limit their intake of red meats, sugar and salt.
The Mediterranean diet shares many of the same dietary goals and guidelines, with some specific substitutions. For example, people are asked to replace butter with healthy fats like olive oil, and they use herbs instead of salt to flavor foods.
The first study on MIND involved nearly 6,000 seniors who participated in the Health and Retirement Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, EE. UU.
Older people who strongly persisted with MIND guidelines were about 35 percent less likely to perform poorly on brain function tests, said lead researcher Claire McEvoy, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, in San Francisco. Those who performed moderately were 18 percent less likely to exhibit signs of brain decline.
"Eating a healthy diet could be an important way to preserve cognitive function during aging," McEvoy said.
But none of the studies was designed to prove a causal relationship between diet and the risk of dementia.
The second study on the effectiveness of the MIND diet involved more than 7,000 women who participated in the EE UU Women's Health Initiative Memory Study. For an average of 10 years.
Women who followed MIND guidelines were 34 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than women who did not follow the guidelines at all, said lead researcher Kathleen Hayden, associate professor of Social sciences, and health policy at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Women who met the MIND diet moderately were 21 to 24 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's, the researchers found.
Hayden said people are likely to get benefits from diet, but also from other healthy behaviors in their lifestyle.
"It's likely that someone who eats a really healthy diet will also take care of other ways," Hayden said.
The findings of the studies were presented Monday at the 2017 International Conference of the Alzheimer's Association in London. Research presented at meetings is generally considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The other two studies presented at the Alzheimer's Association meeting also focused on the effects of nutrition on the brain.
A Swedish study of more than 2,000 people found that those who ate a healthy diet called the Nordic prudent dietary pattern over six years had better brain health. That diet implies that people limit their intake of tubers (potatoes, carrots), refined grains, butter and margarine, sugary foods and fruit juice.
A Columbia University-led study of 330 people with a mean age of 80 years found that those who followed a dietary pattern that promotes inflammation had a worse performance in brain games. MRIs also revealed that they had a lower total volume of gray matter in the brain. This dietary pattern involved a higher intake of cholesterol, beta-carotene and lutein, and a low intake of omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, folate, and vitamins.
Experts did not concur in whether you should eat a healthy diet from a young age to protect your brain health in the long run.
Gordon noted that studies on MIND and Nordic diets focused on people aged 60 and older, which shows that even changes in old age can help people's brains.
"It's better than later, but it's not too late if you get Social Security to change your diet," Gordon said.
But Hayden said people should not waste time if they want to eat in a way that protects them from dementia.
"We do not know how long to eat a healthy diet for brain benefits, but I suspect it's something long-term," Hayden said.
Source: Dean Hartley, Ph.D., director, science initiatives, Alzheimer's Association; Marc Gordon, M.D., chief, neurology, Zucker Hillside Hospital, Glen Oaks, N.Y.; Claire McEvoy, Ph.D., postdoctoral scholar, University of California, San Francisco; Kathleen Hayden, Ph.D., associate professor, social sciences and health policy, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, N.C.; July 17, 2017, Alzheimer's Association International Conference, London
Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/news/fullstory_167290.html