A Diet Might Cut the Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s
Researchers spent two years developing the MIND diet, which includes many brain-healthy foods like berries and greens.
The MIND diet was developed by researchers al Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, whose recent study found that certain foods could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Wall Street Journal Sumathi.Reddy@wsj.com
Researchers successfully tested a special diet they designed that appears to reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The study compared the so-called MIND diet with the popular, heart-healthy Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which is intended to help control high blood pressure. The MIND diet borrows significantly from the other two, and all are largely plant-based and low in high-fat foods. But the MIND diet places particular emphasis on eating brain-healthy” foods such as green leafy vegetables and berries, among other recommendations.
The study, conducted by researchers at Rush University Medical Center In Chicago, found strict adherence to any of the three diets lessened the chances of getting Alzheimer’s. But only the MIND diet seemed to help counter the disease even when people followed only some of the diet’s recommendations The research was observational, not randomized or controlled and therefore isn’t evidence the MIND diet caused a reduced risk for Alzheimer”s.Instead, the research shows there is an association between the two.
The MIND diet combines clements of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which aims to reduce high blood pressure. The MIND diet also includes ‘brain-healthy’ food’ such as lots of green leafy vegetables, blueberries and nuts. A study found adhering strictly to any of the three diets lowered the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. But only the MIND diet had significant benefits even with moderate adherence.
The study is part of a small body of research investigating how nutrition can improve brain health and stave off the cognitive decline and memory impairment that comes with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Experts say there is growing awareness that lifestyle factors-not just genetics-play a prominent role in the development of Alzheimer’s, and researchers hope to come up with an optimal diet that will lessen the chances or developing the disease. An estimated 5.1 million people in the U S. have Alzheimer’s, a number expected to grow to 7.1 million by 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“It’s a relatively new field compared with heart disease and diabetes and nutrition,” said Martha Clare Morris, a professor of neurological epidemiology at Rush “As we learn more and more I think we would definitely modify or update the [MIND] diet based on the latest research,” said Dr. Morris. who was first author of the study, published recently in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
The MIND diet, which took two years to develop. stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Researchers modified the Mediterranean and DASH diets based on evidence from animal and human studies looking at nutrition and the brain. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
The MIND diet has 15 dielary components
- Green leafy vegetables
- Other vegetables
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
The five unhealthy groups are
- Red meats
- Butter and stick margarine
- Pastries and sweets
- Fried or fast food
The MIND diet includes at least three servings of whole grains, a salad and one other vegetable every day-along with a glass of wine. It also involves snacking most days on nuts and eating beans every other day or so, poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week. Dieters must limit eating the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three), to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s, according to a study by Rush University Medical Center researchers.
Source: Rush University
For example, fruits, a common recommendation in heart-healthy diets, haven’t been shown to slow cognitive decline or prevent dementia. but berries, and especially blueberries, have, Dr. Morris said. The MIND diet calls for eating berries at least two times a week and doesn’t include recommendations for other types of fruit. Research also has shown that green leafy vegetables protect the brain more than other vegetables. The MIND diet includes one serving or greens in addition to eating one or more other vegetables a day The MIND diet is heavy on nuts and beans, whole grains and olive oil and recommends a glass of wine a day, all of which also are recommended by one or both of the other diets.
The study involved 923 participants who didn’t have dementia at the start of the research. Their ages ranged from 58 to 96, with a median age of 81. Participants, who were followed on average for 4.5 years. were questioned annually on how often they ate from among 144 different food items. Subjects whose diet choices adhered closely to the MIND diet had a 53% reduced risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Risk was reduced by 54% with the Mediterranean diet and 39% with the DASH diet.
Significantly, even moderate adherence to the MIND diet helped lessen the risk for Alzheimer’s, by 35%. By comparison, moderate adherence to the Mediterranean or DASH diets didn’t affect the chances of getting the disease. That finding was particularly encouraging, because many people find it easier to follow just some or a diet’s recommendations “I think that will motivate people,” Dr.Morns said
The study controlled for genetic predisposition physical activity, cognitive activity and education A further analysis controlled for various chronic medical conditions. It was the first study published on the MIND diet, and researchers expect additional small changes to be made. Cocoa and caffeine, for example, could possibly be added to the diet with more research, Dr. Morris said.
The researchers also analyzed green leafy vegetables in relation to cognitive decline. Participants who ate one to two servings of green vegetables a day had a “dramatic decrease in the rate of cognitive decline” compared with people who ate fewer greens, said Dr. Morris. “It was about the equivalent of being 11 years younger in age,” she said.
“The MIND diet may be a triple bonus. It reduces the risk for dementia, strokes and heart disease,” said Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham N.C., and an Alzheimer’s expert. Dr. Doraiswamy, who wasn’t involved in the MIND diet study, said a randomized controlled study is needed to determine if the diet really reduces dementia risk, and whether combining it with lifestyle interventions like exercise and meditation could provide additional benefits.
A Swedish study is investigating lifestyle’s effect on developing dementia. Finger, for Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability is a randomized controlled study with 1,260 at-risk participants ages 60 to 77. Subjects assigned to an intervention group were given a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet, an exercise program, cognitive training and management of metabolic and vascular risk factors such as diabetes and hypertension. said Miia Kivipello, senior geriatrician at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. A control group was given general health advice.
“Our hypothesis was that maybe we need to target all these different risk factors simultaneously to get the optimal effect of the intervention,” Dr Kivipello said.
Initial results, based on the study’s first two years, were published recently in the Lancet. The researchers found the Intervention had clear benefits in areas including memory function and processing speed. The control group had a 30% higher risk for cognitive impairment, said Dr Kivipello, senior author of the study.
The next step is to separate out the effects of different lifestyle interventions and see how interventions may affect people depending on genetic makeup, she said. For example, there is evidence that people with a certain variation of the apoe4 gene-a risk factor for developing dementia-are more vulnerable to unhealthy diets . Data from the Finger study could indicate whether such people might especially benefit from a healthy diet
Suzanne Crart, a professor at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., also studies the effects of diet on Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in a 2011 randomized controlled study published in the Archives of Neurology, Dr. Crart and colleagues assigned about half of 50 older people to a Western diet relatively high in saturated fat and sugar for a month. The other hair followed a more heart-healthy diet with the same number or calories. Meals were delivered 10 the participants.
An analysis of the participants’ spinal fluids found that the Western diet increased in inflammation and levels of bela-amyloid proteins, which play a role in the development or Alzheimer’s “If you think of the impact of eating with these kinds or patterns over years and years, it’s not hard to see how diet can have a profound effect on your risk for Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Craft.
A follow-up study currently under way, involving 80 people age 45 to 65 years old, is comparing the diets’ effects on blood now in the brain. The researchers are checking for biomarkers that might indicate early changes that raise a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s “If we can identify these really early markers they may turn out to be therapeutic targets or good markers of vulnerability,” she said.Fatty Fish
Seafood like salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and sardines are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, powerful and versatile nutrients that are essential for a healthy mind. About 40% of the fatty acids in brain cell membranes are DHA, one of the main omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. Experts believe it’s probably necessary for transmitting signals between brain cells.
Researchers at Tufts University found that people who ate fish 3 times a week and had the highest levels of DHA in their blood slashed their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 39%.
Eat it: At least twice a week (limit albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces a week to minimize mercury exposure).
Leafy Green and Cruciferous Veggies
Pile salads,stir-fries, and side dishes with broccoli,cauliflower, cabbage,kale, bok choy, and brussels sprouts. They’re filled with antioxidants like vitamin C and plant compounds called carotenoids,which are particularly powerful brain protectors.
Antioxidants prevent damage from free radicals, which are waste products your body makes when cells use fuel to create energy. Your brain is especially vulnerable to damage from free radicals because it uses a lot of fuel (it’s only about 3% of your body weight but uses up to 17% of your energy).Since your mind makes a lot of these toxic by-products, ample antioxidants help to disarm and defuse them.
While all antioxidants (from a variety of plants) are good for your brain,these cruciferous veggies are especially effective. A Harvard Medical School study of more than 13,000 women found that those who ate the most lowered their brain age by 1 to 2 years.
Eat it: Daily, as part of a well-rounded mix of other colorful veggies.
Avocado,Oils, Nuts, and Seeds
They all contain another important antioxidant: vitamin E. n one study, researchers found that people who consumed moderate amounts vitamin E-from food, not supplements-lowered their risk of AD by 67%.
Eat it: Frequently; shoot for 15 mg of E a day, the equivalent of 2 ounces of almonds.
Sweeten your brain-boosting diet with the dark kind (at least 70% cocoa); it contains flavonoids, another class of antioxidants that some research links to brain health. Other flavonoid-rich foods include apples,red and purple grapes, red wine, onions, tea, and beer.
Eat it: Frequently, as part of a healthy total calorie intake. Up to half an ounce daily has also been shown to lower blood pressure.
Research indicates these antioxidant powerhouses may protect your brain, although the mechanism isn’t fully understood. Some scientists think they help to build healthy connections between brain cells.
Eat them: Daily, added to yogurt,oatmeal,or cereal for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
Fiber-rich oatmeal,oat bran,brown rice, and so on help stabilize blood glucose (sugar) levels, compared with refined carbs like white bread and sugary foods. Your body digests these simple sugars quickly, so you have a sudden energy spike-and subsequent plummet. Since glucose is the brain’s main source of fuel,it’s important to keep levels steady; during a crash, you’ll feel tired and crabby and have trouble concentrating.
Eat them: Daily, aiming for 25 grams of fiber; fruits, vegetables,and beans are other good sources.
Every cell in your body needs water to thrive, and your brain cells are no exception; in fact, about three-quarters of your brain is water. A small Ohio University study found that people whose bodies were well hydrated scored significantly better on tests of brainpower, compared with those who weren’t drinking enough.
Drink it: Throughout the day; aim to sip 6 to 8 glasses total.
Alcohol (in moderation)
While chronic, heavy drinking can cause serious dementia, research shows that imbibing lightly may protect the brain. In one JAMA study, people who had one to six drinks a week were 54% less likely to develop dementia than teetotalers. Experts aren’t sure why, but some doctors point out that moderate drinkers have reduced rates of heart disease, too. Small amounts of alcohol may protect both the heart and brain by preventing blockages in blood vessels.
Drink it: Once a day or less-and have no more than one drink. f you have a family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor
Caffeine is another substance wherein the dose makes the poison: In excess, it can cause brain fog, but in moderate amounts, caffeine can improve attention span, reaction time, and other brain skills. One French study found that women over 65 who drank three or more cups of coffee a day were better able to recall words than women who consumed little or none. Another review showed that coffee drinkers may cut AD risk by up to 30%.
Drink it: Daily, limiting caffeine intake to 300 to 400 mg; an 8-ounce cup of coffee has around 100 mg.
The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs and to determine whether making a lifestyle change or decision based on this information is appropriate for you.