Most of us have had a relative who’s struggled with dementia or age-related memory loss. It’s painful to watch anybody fade away like that. You may think that mental decline and dementia are just unavoidable parts of getting older.
Science has shown that your dietary habits over the course of your life play a crucial role in determining whether or not you develop Alzheimer’s disease. Research has proven the MIND diet as a way to help you avoid this fate.
The Alzheimer’s Epidemic
On January 1, 2016, the first wave of Baby Boomers started turning 70. This milestone brought with it some major concerns about the future incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. The numbers project that Alzheimer’s will have reached 16 million by 2050. The Alzheimer’s Association put it bluntly when stating “Everyone with a brain is at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. ”
According to the most recent data from the Alzheimer’s Association:
The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is growing — and growing fast. An estimated 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease.
Of the estimated 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2017, an estimated 5.3 million are age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals are under age 65 and have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.
- One in 10 people age 65 and older (10 percent) has Alzheimer’s dementia.
- Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
- African-Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older whites.
- Hispanics are about one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older whites.
Because of the increasing number of people age 65 and older in the United States, particularly the oldest-old, the number of new cases of Alzheimer’s and other dementias is projected to soar. Today, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s dementia every 66 seconds. By mid-century, someone in the United States will develop the disease every 33 seconds.
MIND Diet Cuts Alzheimer’s Risk by 35 to 53%
Now you may think that the name of this diet is in relation to the brain, but it’s not. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. This top-rated diet for brain health is a combination of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet. The Mediterranean diet has been the go-to diet for brain health for the most part because of its focus on fish, green vegetables, fruits, olive oil, and red wine. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been recommended to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The Mind Diet was developed by Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D. and her colleagues from Rush University Medical Center. The primary finding from research with this diet is that it may reduce the incidence of brain disease that increases the risk for dementia. The MIND diet lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53% in participants that followed the diet rigorously. There was a 35% reduction in risk in those who followed it moderately well.
The MIND Diet
The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and 5 “unhealthy food groups”.
Brain-healthy food groups:
Green leafy vegetables (like spinach and salad greens): At least six servings a week
Other vegetables: At least once a day
Nuts: Five servings a week
Berries: Two or more servings a week
Beans: At least three servings a week
Whole grains: Three or more servings a day
Fish: Once a week
Poultry (like Turkey or chicken): Two times a week
Olive oil: Use it as your main cooking oil
Wine: One glass a day
Unhealthy foods to avoid:
Red meat: Less than four servings a week
Butter and margarine: Less than one tablespoon daily
Cheese: Less than one serving a week
Pastries and sweets: Less than five servings a week
Fried or fast food: Less than one serving a week
Change Your Habits, Change Your Brain’s Future
It can be daunting to change your diet. Habits die hard, but change is possible.
However, the MIND diet is very accommodating in that even if you don’t adhere to the diet strictly you will still benefit in terms of brain health. The foods chosen are great for both the brain and the heart. Besides Alzheimer’s disease, the second largest kind of dementia is vascular dementia. There is reason to believe that the same types of food that lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and prevent or manage diabetes may delay Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia is caused by a series of mini-strokes that most people aren’t even aware of which damage parts of the brain fed by tiny blood vessels. It is well-known that hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, is a risk factor for these strokes. Research has recently found “that the risk of Alzheimer’s is not only tied to these same risk factors but if you treat them, you can actually make a difference,” says Dr. Michael Greger, physician and founder of NutritionFacts.org. Research shows that people with Alzheimer’s who were treated for high cholesterol or blood pressure fared better. Greger says that “It didn’t stop the disease; it didn’t reverse the disease, but it slowed the progression.”
As stated in NutritionFacts.org, eating a varied diet takes advantage of foods that may boost different parts of the brain. It is incredible to see how food makes a direct impact on brain function as follows:
Improve executive function, speed of perception, overall cognition, and fact-based memory -> total vegetable intake is most important
Autobiographical memory and visual-spatial skills -> total fruit intake is key
Carrots may benefit one area of the brain, and mushrooms help with another domain.
In conclusion, it is clear that eating healthy foods on the MIND diet consistently for long periods of time provides the best protection for a healthy brain. While the nutrition piece of the brain healthy lifestyle is critically important, it still must be integrated with all of the other parts: physical exercise, mental stimulation, nutrition, socialization, sleep, stress reduction. The synergy of a brain-healthy lifestyle is much stronger than the sum of its parts.
About the Author
Patricia Faust is a gerontologist specializing in the issues of brain aging, brain health, and brain function. She has a Master’s degree in Gerontological Studies from Miami University in Oxford Ohio. Patricia is a certified brain health coach as well as having a certification in Neuroscience and Wellness. She has been a co-author on various research studies through the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University; her newsletter, My Boomer Brain, has an international readership, and she is regularly published in local and social media.
Patricia is available for speaking engagements, workshops or consulting. Her perspective on brain aging and brain function is a game changer. You can contact Patricia at:
- blogsite: www.myboomerbrain.com
- Di Fiore,N. Diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s. Retrieved January 19, 2016 from https://www.rush.edu/print/1012076
- Esposito,L. (January 5, 2016). Eating for your brain as a senior. Retrieved January 19, 2016 from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2016-01-05/eating-for-your-brain-as-a-senior
- Pagan,C.N. Alzheimer’s Disease Health Center. The mind diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s. Retrieved January 19, 2016 from http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/features/mind-diet-alzheimers-disease