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.

They’re not.

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:

Other resources:

  • 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

 

"Get your best brain and life info..."
Delivered to your inbox. Your email address will never be shared.

7 Comments

  1. What we eat and drink and its quality can significantly impact our susceptibility for a wide variety of diseases. This is further proof that high quality, unprocessed foods are one of the keys to mental and physical health. Wish more doctors would prescribe “pills” like this.

    • We are really stuck on our ‘pills’. A funny thing about our brain though – it has a blood barrier around it that acts as protection from anything trying to get in. So vitamins, supplements and even medications can have a hard time getting through the blood barrier. That is why it can take a long time to get to therapeutic levels of medication.
      But the brain loves nutrients coming from food. We get what we need – not too much. And these nutrients are metabolized enough to make it through the blood barrier. What a miraculous system our brain and body is.

  2. This article is so informative, Patricia and Debbie. My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, so I’m always interested in learning more about prevention. Through the years, I have realized how much our diet can play an important role in lowering the chances of many diseases.

    • Thank you Cathy. When we live a healthy lifestyle – we decrease the risks associated with developing Alzheimer’s. Obesity and Diabetes Type 2 are really hard on our brain. In fact diabetes is so bad that there are sometimes whispers of renaming Alzheimer’s – diabetes type 3. It is hard for us to imagine how food can cause so much damage to our brain and our body. We have primitive brains and bodies – much of what we have has been passed down the genetic pathway from our primitive ancestors. We weren’t made to live on high sugar, bad fat, high salt – processed food. Our brains and our bodies revolt. The wear and tear of bad diets on our brain is what puts us at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Clean food with high nutrient content is what keeps our brains healthy.

    • Good for you Elle. While we seem pretty clear about the benefits of eating fresh food, we still don’t fully grasp the dangers that our food sources pose – due to toxins sprayed on the crops to kill insects. We don’t think about the hormones and antibiotics put into the feed. All of those substances are in the food that we eat. So organic definitely assures us that we are not eating all of these toxins – just the best that nature has to offer.

  3. Useful information on what is clearly more prevalent than I realized Debbie. I think it bears out what we already know that what we eat becomes a part of who we are. Which is one of the reasons we eat as much organic produce as possible in our family..

Write A Comment

134 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Pin
+1