A new diet, appropriately known by the acronym MIND, could significantly lower a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD), even if the diet is not meticulously followed, according to a paper published online in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago developed the “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” (MIND) diet. The study shows that the MIND diet lowered the risk of AD by as much as 53 percent in participants who adhered to the diet rigorously, and by about 35 percent in those who followed it moderately well.
The research team developed the MIND diet based on information that has accrued from years’ worth of past research about what foods and nutrients have good, and bad, effects on the functioning of the brain over time. This is the first study to relate the MIND diet to Alzheimer’s disease.
The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, like hypertension, heart attack and stroke. Some researchers have found that the two older diets provide protection against dementia as well.
In the latest study, the MIND diet was compared with the two other diets. People with high adherence to the DASH and Mediterranean diets also had reductions in AD — 39 percent with the DASH diet and 54 percent with the Mediterranean diet — but got negligible benefits from moderate adherence to either of the two other diets.
The MIND diet is also easier to follow than the Mediterranean diet, which calls for daily consumption of fish and three to four daily servings of each of fruits and vegetables.
The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups” — green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine — and five unhealthy groups that comprise red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and 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).
Berries are the only fruit specifically to make the MIND diet. Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain, the researchers said said, and strawberries have also performed well in past studies of the effect of food on cognitive function.
The MIND diet was not an intervention in this study, however; researchers looked at what people were already eating. Participants earned points if they ate brain-healthy foods frequently and avoided unhealthy foods. The one exception was that participants got one point if they said olive oil was the primary oil used in their homes.
The study enlisted volunteers already participating in the ongoing Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP), which began in 1997 among residents of Chicago-area retirement communities and senior public housing complexes. An optional “food frequency questionnaire” was added from 2004 to February 2013, and the MIND diet study looked at results for 923 volunteers. A total of 144 cases of AD developed in this cohort.
When the researchers in the new study left out of the analyses those participants who changed their diets somewhere along the line — say, on a doctor’s orders after a stroke — they found that the association became stronger between the MIND diet and [favorable] outcomes in terms of AD.
In other words, it looks like the longer a person eats the MIND diet, the less risk that person will have of developing AD.
The results of this study need to be confirmed by other investigators in different populations and also through randomized trials. That is the best way to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the MIND diet and reductions in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Source: Alzheimer's & Dementia, 2015.
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