Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Prevent your brain’s decay with a few diet tips

DASH diet reduces risk of Alzheimer's

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Ally Littlefield, Collegian Correspondent

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Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that destroys brain cells, impairing memory and a person’s normal capabilities as it progresses. It is much more common than people believe, as the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. While our country emphasizes eating a heart-healthy diet, people are starting to become more aware of “brain foods.” A new diet has been developed called the MIND diet, and its sole purpose is to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

The MIND diet is a combination of both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet and stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. This hybrid diet takes into account the findings of the effects of nutrition on brain aging. It emphasizes eating 10 specific “brain healthy” foods, including green leafy vegetables (and other veggies), nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. It also discourages red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried foods, including fast food.

In 2015, the diet was tested with 923 men and women ages 58 to 98. They were followed for an average of 4.5 years and were given diet scores based on a questionnaire. The study found that those who more strictly followed the MIND diet and scored well had a 53 percent reduction of risk in developing Alzheimer’s, and those who followed the diet less rigorously still had a 35 percent reduction in risk.

The MIND diet also specifies the frequency people should be eating leafy greens and vegetables each week, basing their information from two large U.S. cohort studies. These studies found that the effects of aging on the brain slowed when including two servings of leafy green vegetables per week into participants’ diet—and more satisfactory results when increasing the servings to six. There are little findings of the effects of servings of fruit on cognitive function, however blueberries and strawberries specifically have been found to have neuroprotective properties. Berries contain high amounts of flavonoids, and a study conducted in 2012 found that berry supplementation in rodents significantly slowed down cognitive decline. Anthocyanin, a particular flavonoid found in berries, is a special component of berries that many studies have found to make them a great “brain food.”

By eliminating red meat, pastries, butter and cheese from a person’s diet, they’re also eliminating excess dietary sugar and saturated fat. This is an essential part of a heart-healthy diet, and evidence suggests this conscientious diet for heart health also has protective properties for the brain. High blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol are all conditions that have shown to increase the risk of heart disease and are also shown to be linked to Alzheimer’s disease. In an autopsy study, it was found that 80 percent of people who had Alzheimer’s also had cardiovascular disease. However, cardiovascular disease does not “cause” Alzheimer’s, and there are many more factors that go into play. Exercise also may decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s by increasing oxygen and blood flow to the brain and improving cardiorespiratory health.

Other benefits of the MIND diet include a possibly reduced risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and diabetes. However, since the diet is so specific toward preventing Alzheimer’s and its effects on the brain, further research needs to be conducted in this area.

While the MIND diet is fairly new and still needs more research, it seems to have very promising results. Unfortunately, there are some non-modifiable factors that contribute to a person developing Alzheimer’s. These factors include age, genetics, environment and coexisting medical conditions. But modifying lifestyle choices such as living a heart healthy lifestyle, following the MIND diet and increasing physical activity may significantly decrease a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease despite these other factors.

If the MIND diet is something that interests you, Healthline details the logistics of the diet and includes an example of weekly meal plan.

Ally Littlefield can be reached at [email protected]

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