Can a change in diet reduce onset of dementia? Studies indicate yes

February 21, 2014

Data suggesting that nutrition plays a major role in the risk of dementia and cognitive decline continue to accumulate. This is good news, as it suggests that there is a lot that each of us can do individually to lower our risk of dementia and cognitive decline as we age.

Considering that 65.7 million people are expected to be afflicted with dementia by the year 2030, and that there is no known effective treatment to stop the progression of dementia, it behooves us to do what we can now to stem this rising tide, especially with the predicted insolvency of Medicare in the near future.

A recent article published in the Journal of Neurology provides some hope in the search for ways to reduce the onset of dementia. In this study from Spain, researchers looked at the impact of a Mediterranean-style on cognition; 522 men and women, ages 50-80, were randomized to one of three diets: a MedDiet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, a MedDiet with mixed nuts, or a standard low-fat control diet (the kind of diet that is often recommended to patients with and dementia).

All participants were free of and dementia at the start of the study, but were considered high risk because of major risk factors like diabetes, and tobacco use.

The participants' cognition was evaluated after 6.5 years on these diets; the researchers found that cognition scores were highest in the participants who were eating the MedDiet with EVOO, but were also good in the participants on the MedDiet with mixed nuts. They concluded that a MedDiet with EVOO or nuts appeared to improve cognition compared to a low-fat diet.

The traditional diet of the Mediterranean area includes plentiful amounts of EVOO; in fact, fat may constitute up to 40 percent of total calorie intake per day. The MedDiet is also a plant-based diet: It includes lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes, with moderate to high consumption of fish and seafood, low consumption of dairy and meat and minimal consumption of processed grains.

This diet has been considered one of the healthiest diets in the world, as people consuming the MedDiet have traditionally had very low rates of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases compared to people consuming the standard American diet (aka "SAD").

Why would the MedDiet improve cognition? The EVOO, nuts, fish, vegetables and fruits in the MedDiet contain significant quantities of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory plant chemicals - and inflammation and oxidation are increasingly recognized as major contributors to chronic disease including dementia and heart disease.

Studies have shown that people who consume these diets have lower blood concentrations of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein; they also tend to have fewer risk factors for vascular disease, like diabetes and high blood pressure. Vascular disease has been shown to increase the risk of and dementia.

In comparison, the standard American diet is very high in processed grains and sugars; this kind of diet invariably leads to elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance.

Persistently elevated blood sugar leads to the glycation of proteins, a process where glucose molecules attach to proteins. These glycated proteins are harmful to the brain. A high intake of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup has been associated with lower cognitive function, but the MedDiet is low in added sugars - yet another benefit.

Dr. David Perlmutter, a renowned neurologist, has written about the impact of sugar and grains on brain health in his New York Times best-seller "Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs and Sugar - Your Brain's Silent Killers."

The SAD diet has also been associated with mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In a study of 9,000 adults, published in 2012, researchers showed that people who ate fast food on a regular basis, as well as processed carbohydrate foods like doughnuts and croissants, were 40 percent more likely to develop depression compared to those who did not eat these foods.

The mechanism behind all of this may actually begin in the gut; a high-sugar, high-carb diet produces negative changes in the bacteria that reside in our GI tracts, leading to the production of inflammatory chemicals that subsequently drive chronic disease, including cognitive issues and mental health disorders.

Given that and depression are both on the rise in Western countries, and given that drug treatment is expensive and often unsuccessful or unsatisfactory, doesn't it make sense to boot the fast food and doughnuts and reach for the kale and carrots instead?

If most of us made an effort to eat well, stay physically fit, get plenty of rest and stay mentally active, we might save Medicare from bankruptcy after all.

Explore further: Mediterranean diet seems to boost ageing brain power

Related Stories

Mediterranean diet seems to boost ageing brain power

May 20, 2013
A Mediterranean diet with added extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts seems to improve the brain power of older people better than advising them to follow a low-fat diet, indicates research published online in the Journal ...

New analysis suggests whole diet approach to lower cardiovascular risk has more evidence than low-fat diets

February 6, 2014
A study published in The American Journal of Medicine reveals that a whole diet approach, which focuses on increased intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, has more evidence for reducing cardiovascular risk than strategies ...

Mediterranean diet alone may lower diabetes risk

January 6, 2014
(HealthDay)—Adults at risk for heart disease who eat a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil can lower their chances of developing diabetes, even without restricting calories or boosting exercise, new research suggests.

Heart-healthy diet helps men lower bad cholesterol, regardless of weight loss

May 1, 2013
A heart-healthy diet helped men at high risk for heart disease reduce their bad cholesterol, regardless of whether they lost weight, in a study presented at the American Heart Association's Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and ...

Mediterranean diet associated with lower risk of peripheral artery disease

January 21, 2014
A multicenter study that previously reported a reduction in heart attack and stroke with a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or with nuts now also reports a lower risk of peripheral artery disease, ...

Mediterranean diet linked with lower risk of heart disease among young US workers

February 4, 2014
Among a large group of Midwestern firefighters, greater adherence to Mediterranean-style diet was associated with lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard ...

Recommended for you

Lifestyle changes to stave off Alzheimer's? Hints, no proof

July 20, 2017
There are no proven ways to stave off Alzheimer's, but a new report raises the prospect that avoiding nine key risks starting in childhood just might delay or even prevent about a third of dementia cases around the world.

Blood test identifies key Alzheimer's marker

July 19, 2017
A new study led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that measures of amyloid beta in the blood have the potential to help identify people with altered levels of amyloid in their ...

Steering an enzyme's 'scissors' shows potential for stopping Alzheimer's disease

July 19, 2017
The old real estate adage about "location, location, location" might also apply to the biochemical genesis of Alzheimer's disease, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.

Brain scans may change care for some people with memory loss

July 19, 2017
Does it really take an expensive brain scan to diagnose Alzheimer's? Not everybody needs one but new research suggests that for a surprising number of patients whose memory problems are hard to pin down, PET scans may lead ...

Can poor sleep boost odds for Alzheimer's?

July 18, 2017
(HealthDay)— Breathing problems during sleep may signal an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease, a trio of studies suggests.

Hearing is believing: Speech may be a clue to mental decline

July 17, 2017
Your speech may, um, help reveal if you're uh ... developing thinking problems. More pauses, filler words and other verbal changes might be an early sign of mental decline, which can lead to Alzheimer's disease, a study suggests.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PeterD
not rated yet Feb 22, 2014
Carbs damage your brain and are not needed in the human diet. Protein and fat are what you need to be healthy. We can hope that eventually the medical fools will figure this out!
kienhoa68
not rated yet Feb 24, 2014
If you're not busy being born, you're busy dyin'. So don't take life too seriously or it's no fun. We only get about 657,000 hours of life anyway. There are 8760 hours in a year so figure out how many hours you might have wasted or have left. Life goes fast enough now to count the hours.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.