Can your diet help prevent dementia?

can walnut improve cognitive function. blueberry It can enhance memory. Fish oil supplements can Reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

You may have noticed these loud claims of “brain food” strewn across online health articles and social media feeds. But can certain foods or diets really prevent or prevent dementia?

Experts say that although nutrition studies are difficult to conduct, there is a compelling and growing body of research to suggest this Some foods and diets It may offer real benefits to an aging brain. So we spoke with more than two dozen researchers and researched to better understand the links between diet and dementia.

Scientists do not yet know for sure what cause Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia. Currently, there is no drug that can reverse this, said Dr. Uma Naidoo, MD, director of nutrition and metabolic psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food.”

She said, “But we can influence the way we eat.”

Research shows that people with certain conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes are more likely than those without such conditions to experience age-related cognitive decline. Dr Naidoo said the risks of developing these conditions can be increased by poor diet and lack of exercise, suggesting there are things you can do to reduce your chances of developing dementia.

two diets in particular, Mediterranean diet and the Mind Diet – Both promote fresh produce, legumes, nuts, fish, whole grains and olive oil – and have been shown in scientific studies to provide Powerful protection against cognitive decline.

one study, Published in 2017, analyzed the diet and cognitive performance of more than 5,900 older adults in the United States. The researchers found that those who adhered more closely to either the Mediterranean diet or the MIND diet had a 30 to 35 percent lower risk of cognitive impairment than those who adhered to these diets less closely.

“Anything that helps keep your arteries healthy will reduce your risk of dementia,” said Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “What’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” agreed Dr. Ronald Petersen, MD, a neurologist and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic.

One of the big changes you can make to your diet is to “up your vegetarian game,” Dr. Naidoo said. Leafy greens are packed with nutrients and fiber, and some solid evidence has linked them to slow age-related cognitive decline.

at One randomized controlled trial Conducted in Israel and published this year, for example, researchers conducted brain scans of more than 200 people who were divided into three diet groups. They found that after 18 months, those who followed a “green” Mediterranean diet — one rich in mankai (a nutrient-packed green plant), green tea and walnuts — had the slowest rate of age-related cerebral atrophy. Those who followed a traditional Mediterranean diet were close to far behind. Those who followed the regular healthy diet guidelines — which were less vegetarian and allowed more processed and red meat than the other two diets — had a greater reduction in brain volume.

These neuroprotective effects were particularly evident in people 50 years of age or older.

Many experts have said that the more colorful the products on your plate, the better the food is usually for your brain.

in one 2021 Observational StudyResearchers followed more than 77,000 people for nearly 20 years. They found that those who followed a diet rich in flavonoids — natural substances found in colorful fruits and vegetables, chocolate and wine — were less likely than those who ate the least flavonoids to report signs of cognitive aging.

The Mind Diet specifically notes that berries, which are good sources of fiber and antioxidants, have cognitive benefits. one study Published in 2012, it looked at more than 16,000 people aged 70 and over for over a dozen years. It concluded that older women who ate more blueberries and strawberries had delayed rates of cognitive decline: perhaps by up to 2.5 years.

“I don’t think there are miracle foods out there, but of course it’s okay to eat fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Alison Reese, a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board and Memory Examiner at the Alzheimer’s Foundation. USA.

“Fish is food for the brain,” said Dr. Mitchell Kling, director of the Memory Assessment Program at the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging in the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

One specific omega-3 fatty acid — docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA — found in cold water, and fatty fish, such as salmon, is “the most prevalent brain fat,” said Lisa Mosconi, MD, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Weill Cornell Medicine. .

Dr. Mosconi said that our bodies cannot produce enough DHA on their own. “We have to provide it from the diet, and it’s a strong argument for eating fish.”

According to Dr. Willett, eating two to three servings per week will provide “nearly all the benefits.”

Nuts and seeds have been repeatedly linked to slowing cognitive decline.

at One review 2021 Among 22 studies of nut consumption involving nearly 44,000 people, researchers found that those at high risk of cognitive decline tended to have better outcomes if they ate more nuts — especially walnuts. However, the authors acknowledged some inconsistency between the studies and inconclusive evidence.

another study, Posted in 2014looked at nearly 16,000 women aged 70 and over between 1995 and 2001. The researchers found that women who said they ate at least five servings of nuts per week had better cognitive scores than those who didn’t eat nuts.

Whole grains, as well as legumes, such as lentils and soybeans, also appear to have benefits for heart health and cognitive function. at 1 study 2017 For more than 200 people in Italy aged 65 or older, researchers found an association between eating three servings of legumes per week and higher cognitive performance.

And olive oil, a key ingredient in both the Mediterranean and MIND diets, has strong links with healthy cognitive aging. One Study 2022 Of more than 92,000 adults in the United States found that a higher olive oil intake was associated with a 29 percent lower risk of death from neurodegenerative diseases — and an 8 percent to 34 percent lower risk of death overall — compared to those who They never or rarely consumed olive oil. .

According to the experts we spoke with, there is little evidence that supplements — including fatty acids and vitamin B or vitamin E — will reduce cognitive decline or dementia.

“Supplements cannot replace a healthy diet,” said Dr. Mosconi.

One major study about 3500 seniorsFor example, he concluded that taking omega-3 supplements, which are often marketed as supporting brain health, did not slow cognitive decline.

Willett said that when it comes to supplements like fish oil, you don’t need to “load like a seal.” Instead, said Dr. Petersen, of the Mayo Clinic, remember that old saying: “If it’s made from a plant, eat it. If it’s made in a plant, don’t eat it.”