- Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and irreversible form of dementia, which can impair memory, communication, attention, judgment, and visual perception.
- While there is no cure for the disease, Alzheimer’s prevention can start with the foods we choose to eat.
- Research reveals Mediterranean diet supports brain health, though taking components of the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet to create the appropriately named MIND diet bares greater benefits.
- What’s more, people who adhere even moderately to the MIND diet show a reduction in their risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Dementia is “a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Commonly, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are often used interchangeably, though dementia itself is not a specific condition. Instead, dementia is a descriptive term to describe various symptoms that follow cognitive declination, including the impairment of memory, communication, attention, judgment, and visual perception.
Nonetheless, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are caused when brain cells are impaired, either from a neurodegenerative disease, brain injury and tumor, uncontrolled health condition such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, and poor diet with the inclusion of processed foods. And while there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, prevention can start with the foods we choose to eat.
Alzheimer’s Prevention through Diet
When it comes to an Alzheimer’s prevention diet, the following eating patterns are backed by research:
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet encourages whole, plant-based foods and healthy fat sources, particularly monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. A further breakdown includes whole grains, fruits and veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds, olive and canola oils, and fresh herbs and spices.
The diet also supports fish and lean poultry at least twice a week, dairy products and red wine in moderation, and a low consumption of red meats. Beyond the diet itself, a Mediterranean lifestyle also encourages eating meals with family and friends, along with being active on a regular basis.
A Mediterranean diet and lifestyle has shown to support heart health, manage diabetes, reverse metabolic syndrome, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and its current venture: Alzheimer’s disease prevention.
The National Institute of Health recaps the work of Dr. Lisa Mosconi from Weill Cornell Medicine, in which she compared brain imaging in 34 people who ate a Mediterranean diet and 36 people who ate a Western diet. The initial brain scans showed that the people who ate a Western diet already had more beta-amyloid deposits than those who ate a Mediterranean diet.
Beta-amyloid is a protein fragment shown to build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The accumulation of beta-amyloid mostly interferes with the communication of nerve cells and may interfere with cognition.
Mosconi and her colleagues measured changes in brains over time, particularly by repeating the scans at least two years later. In the follow-up scans, people in the Western diet group showed even greater beta-amyloid deposits and reductions in energy use than the Mediterranean diet group.
The MIND Diet
The MIND Diet stands for “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” and is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH Diet. The MIND Diet encourages the basic principles of each, though has specific recommendations with the inclusion of foods and nutrients that research supports for good brain health.
More specifically, the MIND diet is comprised of 15 elements – 10 brain-healthy foods and five unhealthier groups. The 10 brain-healthy food groups include:
- Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and salad greens: Every day or at least six times daily
- Other vegetables: at least one serving per day
- Nuts: every day or at least five servings weekly
- Berries, particularly blueberries: two or more servings a week
- Beans: at least three servings a week
- Whole grains: three or more servings daily
- Fish: at least once a week
- Poultry, like chicken or turkey: at least twice per week
- Olive oil: use it as your cooking oil
- Wine: one glass (5 ounces) per day
The five unhealthier food groups include:
- Red meat: less than four servings a week
- Butter and margarine: less than a tablespoon daily
- Cheese: less than one serving a week
- Pastries and sweets: Limit or less than five servings a week
- Fried or fast food: Limit or less than one serving a week
To put the MIND diet to test, researchers from Rush University evaluated the nutritional information of over 900 seniors that were already following basic MIND diet principles, as well as those who ate a Mediterranean diet and a DASH diet.
Researchers then noted the incidences of Alzheimer’s of those seniors over a 5-year period, finding seniors who followed the MIND diet reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 53 percent. And those who did not follow the diet rigorously still reduced the risk of the disease by as much as 35 percent!
“One of the more exciting things about this is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD,” said Martha Clare Morris, a Rush professor, assistant provost for Community Research, and director of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology. “I think that will motivate people.” What’s more, the MIND diet is relatively simple to understand and follow.
As more detailed recommendations are uncovered in light of Alzheimer’s prevention food patterns, the current diet-related suggestions do reveal to be neuroprotective and are worth exploring. Not only do these sort of whole foods, plant-based eating patterns prove to benefit the brain, but are positively impact overall health and wellbeing.
Ultimately, though, consulting with a doctor or dietitian can help address any concerns or devise a plan that suits personal needs and preferences.