A diet created by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, called the MIND diet, may substantially slow cognitive decline in stroke survivors, according to preliminary research presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2018 (January 25). The findings are significant because stroke survivors are twice as likely to develop dementia compared to the general population.
What is the MIND diet?
The diet, known as the MIND diet, is short for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both have been found to reduce the risk of hypertension, heart attack and stroke.
The MIND diet includes elements from the Mediterranean and DASH diets, but also includes specific foods and nutrients linked to optimal brain health in past studies. The diet’s 10 “brain-healthy food groups” include green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine.
The plan also advises that five unhealthy food groups – red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food – be limited.
The diet has been associated with reduced Alzheimer's risk in seniors who adhered to its recommendations. Even people who moderately adhered had reduced risk of AD and cognitive decline.
Study assessed survivors' cognitive function, monitored their diets
From 2004 to 2017, the research team studied 106 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project who had a history of stroke for cognitive decline, including decline in one's ability to think, reason and remember. They assessed people in the study every year until their deaths or the study's conclusion, for an average of 5.9 years, and monitored patients' eating habits using food journals.
The researchers grouped participants into those who were highly adherent to the MIND diet, moderately adherent and least adherent. They also looked at additional factors that are known to affect cognitive performance, including age, gender, education level, participation in cognitively stimulating activities, physical activity, smoking and genetics.
MIND diet, but not Mediterranean or DASH diets, slowed cognitive decline
The study participants whose diets scored highest on the MIND diet score had substantially slower rate of cognitive decline than those who scored lowest. The estimated effect of the diet remained strong even after taking into account participants' level of education and participation in cognitive and physical activities. In contrast to the results of slower decline with higher MIND diet score, stroke survivors who scored high on the Mediterranean and DASH diets, did not have significant slowing in their cognitive abilities.
The Mediterranean and DASH diets have been shown to be protective against coronary artery disease and stroke, but it seems the nutrients emphasized in the MIND diet may be better suited to overall brain health and preserving cognition, the researchers noted.
Studies have found that folate, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids and flavonoids are associated with slower rates of cognitive decline, while saturated and hydrogenated fats have been associated with dementia.
The goal of the MIND diet is to emphasize foods that will not only lower the risk of heart attack and stroke, but also protect against cognitive decline.
The researchers caution, however, that the study was observational, with a relatively small number of participants, and its findings cannot be interpreted in a cause-and-effect relationship.
Source: Rush University Medical Center
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