Eating Away At Alzheimer’s Disease
A new diet which has shown promise as a means to combat Alzheimer’s disease has just been ranked as one of the easiest to follow according to U.S. News & World Report.
The MIND diet – short for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay – combines elements of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center have demonstrated that people who rigorously followed the MIND diet were able to lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53% – while those who followed the diet’s guidelines less strictly were still able to reduce their risk by roughly 35%.
The study’s authors say the fact that even partial adherence to the diet can still have such promising results is great news.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association of America as many as 5.1 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease– and each one of those 5.1 million people rely on as many as four familial caregivers, predominately women, to cope with the disease and its implications for personal autonomy, physical safety and mental stability. The new scientific findings that a diet can play such an important role in prevention – coupled with the idea that the diet is one of the easiest to follow – is news that many people who suffer from the disease or care for those who do have long been hoping for.
The study was conducted with volunteers from the Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP) who were residents in senior living homes throughout Chicago. The project began in 1997. For this study 923 participants who were determined not to have Alzheimer’s disease at the onset underwent two neurological examinations a year and were asked to keep food logs from 2004 to 2013. This data was used to obtain the MIND diet scores. In particular the study’s investigators were looking for the presence of the dietary components listed below.
Eat this! Not that!
The MIND diet categorizes food into fifteen groups – ten categories of ‘brain healthy’ foods and five ‘unhealthy’ food groups and suggests that people try to incorporate the following:
- One serving of leafy dark green vegetables and one other vegetable each day
- Three servings of whole grains every day
- Snack on nuts most days
- Eat beans every other day
- Eat poultry at least twice a week
- Have a serving of fish once per week
- One glass of wine per day
- Two servings of berries a week
Just as important as sticking to the guidelines above, as Morris and her colleagues say, is to avoid as much as possible foods from the ‘unhealthy’ categories identified by the diet. In addition to adding the above foods – people who want the most impact from the diet should strictly limit, or better yet, abstain from the following:
- Red meat
- Pastries and sweets
- Whole fat cheeses
- Fried foods
- Butter and stick margarine
The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, builds on previous research that has explored the impact of food choices on cognitive function as we age. Berries are the only fruit specifically mentioned in the diet. Strawberries have previously demonstrated positive benefits on the aging brain and now Morris and her research team are touting the benefits of blueberries as one of the most powerful foods available for protecting the brain from degenerative damage.
Researchers say that Alzheimer’s disease is not unlike heart disease in that there appears to be many factors that affect whether a person will develop the disease. Behavioral, genetic and environmental factors all play a part and it is still unclear exactly how. However, for those who develop late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, genetics play a lesser role. This leaves lifestyle choices, including food and behaviors, open for study as a means to chip away at the possibility of developing the disease as we age. The study’s authors point out that, as with many healthy choices, the longer you adhere to them the better.
While the diet’s developers caution that further research and more randomized trials are necessary, they feel confident that anyone who follows the diet – even moderately – will see health benefits. The ease with which the diet can be followed, and the additional benefits to other body systems– make this diet a sensible plan for anyone who wants to improve their health, and their cognition, as they age.
Morris, Martha Clare et al. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease Volume 11 , Issue 9 , 1007 – 1014
Morris, Martha Clare et al. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging Volume 11 , Issue 9 , 1015 – 1022
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