Do Food Choices Impact Alzheimer’s Risk? Some Promising Research

If you were told there was a diet plan that, if you followed it closely, would reduce or even prevent the risk of getting Alzheimer’s, would you do it?

Would you make the needed changes to your eating habits — and then stick with them?

There is some more motivation to do so in some recent research we think is encouraging enough to pass along.

This finding comes at the same time as the latest report on Alzheimer’s was released. The 2015 Alzheimer’ Disease Facts and Figures report was just released with more sobering statistics!

Alzheimer’s continues to be the only cause of death without a cure or reliable treatment. A new case is diagnosed every 67 seconds with more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States.

One in three seniors dies with an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis.

Two thirds of persons with dementia are women.

Who wouldn’t want to prevent it, or drastically reduce the likelihood of getting dementia, if it was as easy as eating differently?

We call that motivation!

The MIND Diet

Scientists are not yet saying they have definitive proof of cause and effect between the diet and prevention of dementia but found that 53% of those who rigorously followed the new ‘anti-Alzheimer’s’ diet had a lower risk of Alzheimer’s in the study. If they followed the diet only moderately, they had a 35% drop in risk of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers did find a correlation in those people who followed the diet also had an overall healthier lifestyle. They state it is never too late to start this diet to see its effects. The longer the diet is followed, the more protective benefits you can receive.

The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet combines the Mediterranean diet with certain features of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.

The MIND diet has fifteen diet components, of which ten are brain healthy and five are unhealthy foods. The healthy foods include vegetables especially green leafy ones, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. The unhealthy foods include red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast foods.

One should limit the unhealthy while increasing the healthy choices. Fruits such as blueberries and strawberries are emphasized due to their brain health benefits.

The MIND diet was designed by a nutritional epidemiologist and her colleagues at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Lifestyle factors that can impact success include smoking history, exercise, educational background, history of obesity or depression, chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease and types of mentally challenging activities done.

Because the Mediterranean and DASH diets have already shown benefits for heart health, researchers feel that the added benefit to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s should add enough reason to adopt these dietary habits for health.

Other Diet Research Findings

Most experts agree that the research that proves eating one type of food or another or avoiding eating something is still in the infant phase. Research is underway right now looking at connections between consuming a variety of foods and the development of dementia.

At this point in history, there is no clear evidence that a food or component will prevent dementia but there are many hopeful research studies that have begun to shed light on improvements we can make to increase our health and wellness which could, in turn, reduce our risk of developing dementia.

  1. Some of the best evidence so far indicates that Vitamin E and C, due to their antioxidant properties, can have a protective effect on our brain health. These antioxidants can help with anti-inflammatory processes which may decrease neuron cell death in the brain cause by protein plaques. Vitamin E is best received from food sources such as nuts, vegetable oil, and seeds such as sunflower seeds not supplements.
  2. Another area of research involves cholesterol. When most experts have backed off of claims that cholesterol leads to plaque formation in arteries and leading to poor heart health, it seems that cholesterol can increase the deposits in the brain of A-beta forming plaques there, supporting theories that high blood cholesterol levels increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. People taking statin drugs to lower their cholesterol had lower incidences of dementia.
  3. There are clinical trials in progress investigating the effect of fish oil supplementation on risk for dementia but results are not available. Most agree that using food instead of supplements will provide the best benefits to our health especially brain and heart health. Recommendations for two to three servings of fish a week will provide fatty acids protective to our heart and brain health.
  4. We can also look forward to more research into how our blood sugar and insulin response will contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. It has been suggested that Alzheimer’s could be considered ‘brain diabetes’. It is thought that high levels of sugar in the blood in the brain causes a shut down in the insulin response which can lead to impairment in our memory and eventually cause brain damage.

Our Brains – Our Choices

It is important to remember that what we eat (or don’t eat) is an important factor in our overall health — especially with respect to brain health — and it is the most easily modifiable environmental factor.

It is in our control. We choose what we eat every day.

Choosing foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol instead of foods that are rich sources of antioxidants may be influencing more than our waistlines – it may be contributing to dementia.

In addition to what we eat, how active we are physically and mentally contribute to the determination of our risk for dementia as well.

As more research comes to a conclusion in the near future, we should be ready to make the lifestyle changes they feel will help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias especially until a cure can be found.