Brain Health

Does This Diet Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease?

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Does This Diet Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease? about undefined
Diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease continue to increase around the world. So, it's no surprise that dementia researchers are actively exploring various strategies to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and improve brain health. Among these approaches, the MIND diet has emerged as a promising eating plan that’s specifically designed to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. We've written about this diet plan before, but if there was any doubt about the memory-saving power of the MIND diet, a new study just published in the journal Neurology will likely put it to rest. Let's take a closer look at how this simple, healthy meal plan slows cognitive decline and improves brain function.

Does diet influence plaques in the brain?

Scientists still don’t understand exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Many brain health experts believe there's more than one factor. However, one prominent feature of the disease in many cases is plaques in the brain. It's why researchers from RUSH University Medical Center were thrilled when they found a promising link between following either the MIND diet or the Mediterranean diet – and fewer brain plaques and other proteins called tau tangles. This study was published in March 2023 in the journal Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Two damaging types of brain plaque

Previous research shows that Alzheimer’s disease has a profound effect on two specific types of proteins in the brain. The first is beta-amyloid. With Alzheimer’s, the naturally occurring beta-amyloid protein becomes “sticky,” making it form clumps known as plaques in the brain. The second negative protein is tau, which occurs inside brain cells, or neurons. In cases of Alzheimer’s, abnormal levels of tau protein collect inside neurons, forming tangles. These tangles then block the neuron’s transport system, disrupting communication between brain cells that's essential for healthy brain function and a strong, sharp memory for years to come.

An easy, affordable intervention to slow cognitive decline

According to the lead author of this study, Dr. Puja Agarwal, assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and nutritional epidemiologist at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, RUSH University Medical Center, she and her team studied the effects of both the MIND diet and the Mediterranean diet on Alzheimer’s disease for two reasons… The first is because Alzheimer’s is the most common neurodegenerative disorder in our aging population. And second, we have few effective treatments available for it (at least when it comes to conventional medicine). Here at Awakening From Alzheimer's we'd add a third reason: A change to dietary habits is a relatively simple and affordable intervention for improving cognitive function. And best of all, when you change your diet to a MIND eating plan, it’s not just your brain health that improves. You’ll also notice that high blood pressure will drop, your overall cardiovascular health will improve, and you’ll lose weight.

Eating the MIND diet resulted in younger brains

In this observational study, the RUSH team followed older adults from when they enrolled in the study until their death. The researchers obtained information on what they ate during follow-up. Then, they assessed Alzheimer’s disease pathology such as amyloid and tau tangles in those who donated their brains to the study at the time of death. The study included people both with and without Alzheimer’s diagnosis. At the time of death, 39 percent of participants had been diagnosed with dementia. When examined after death, 66 percent actually met the criteria for Alzheimer’s disease. Upon analysis, the researchers found a link between following the MIND or Mediterranean diets and having lower levels of Alzheimer’s plaques and tangles. Eating these diets was associated with enough fewer amyloid plaques in the brain to be equivalent to growing four years younger cognitively, the team concluded. As such, the team concluded that eating healthy diets such as MIND or Mediterranean diets may lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and boost brain health. Other observational studies also show promising results regarding the MIND diet and its ability to stop Alzheimer’s disease. Best of all, you don't have to eat the “perfect” MIND diet every day.

Reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease when followed “moderately”

Adhering to the MIND diet significantly reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, even among those who only moderately followed the diet. That's great news for those of us who have a hard time sticking to a new diet or meal plan. Of course, the more closely you follow the MIND diet, the better the results. Studies show that those who stick closely to the MIND diet meal plan had a 53 percent reduction in Alzheimer’s risk—that’s cutting risk in more than half! For those who "moderately" follow the plan there was a 35 percent reduction in Alzheimer's disease risk. If that isn't enough, another study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found similar results. It showed that adherence to the MIND diet was linked to slower cognitive decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. What's more, the scientists found that these results were independent of other lifestyle factors such as physical exercise and cognitive stimulation. It’s a big win for healthy eating!

How Does the MIND Diet Work?

MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It is a hybrid diet that combines elements of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The MIND Diet emphasizes consumption of specific brain-healthy foods while limiting or avoiding foods that may increase cognitive decline, such as fried foods.

What do you eat on the MIND diet?

The MIND diet includes foods that are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and flavonoids that are designed to boost brain health, such as:
  • Whole grains (such as brown rice)
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Berries
  • Nuts
  • Beans and legumes
  • Fatty fish (such as salmon)
  • Poultry
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Wine (1 glass/day, red wine only)
  • Spices and herbs including turmeric, cinnamon, rosemary, and other anti-inflammatory compounds.

Avoid or limit these foods and protect your brain health

The MIND diet emphasizes avoiding or limiting foods that are linked to a greater risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, for example:
  1. Margarine and seed oils – high in trans fats and linked to an increased risk of cognitive impairment.
  2. Cheese – while not completely off-limits, it should be consumed in moderation, according to our sources.
  3. Red meat – this may be controversial, since grassfed beef may not do nearly the damage to the body and brain that CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) meats do. This is because of the diet, added hormones and lifestyle of the cattle.
  4. Processed foods – which are known for their unhealthy oils, additives and preservatives, and nutritionally barren ingredient list.

Putting the MIND diet into practice

Adopting the MIND diet can be practical and enjoyable. Best of all, the guidelines are simple. All you have to do to make it part of your routine is:
  • Fill your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables, aiming for 5+ servings/day.
  • Opt for whole grains instead of their white counterparts.
  • Replace other fats with olive oil and avocados.
  • Eat more poultry and fish and less red meat.
The evidence for the MIND diet is overwhelmingly positive. We encourage you to incorporate this simple diet into your lifestyle. Best Regards, The Awakening From Alzheimer’s Team tangles#Diet-and-Alzheimers-disease  

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