The Dementia Diet: Treating and Preventing Dementia with foods

We have talked about all sorts of studies on living longer, lowering your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. But the one thing that we haven’t touched on so much is what happens in our golden years.

One of the most devastating illnesses is dementia. Essentially, this disease is about forgetting things: forgetting who you are; forgetting your memories; forgetting the people you love. So today’s topic is all about what can we do to lower our risk of getting dementia? Is there an ideal dementia diet?

Background

So before we dive into the research, what’s scary about dementia is how many people are affected by it. In 2014, 5 million adults over the age of 65 were affected with dementia. But it’s projected that by 2016 you are looking at over 14 million adults, meaning folks over the age of 55 who would have dementia. So anytime there’s any study that comes out that has some hope for us, we want to learn from it. As you know, there aren’t any medications so far that can prevent dementia.

When it comes to prevention, aside from quitting smoking, sleeping seven to nine hours a day, moving more, making better relationships, what changes can we make to our diet?

Research

There is a fascinating study looking at dietary flavonoid intake and its impact on cognitive decline, meaning how fast your memory declines as you get older. This is a longitudinal study where they were following people over decades. The female participants were from the Nurses Health Study, which had 49,493 women from 1984 to 2006. The participants were given seven different food frequency questionnaires to make sure that they were assessing the data accurately. The male participants were from the Health Professional follow-up study, another long-term longitudinal study with over 27,400 men. They repeated the food frequency questionnaires five times to make sure they got accurate data.

So let’s get into some of the findings, what the mechanisms could be, and really, what are some of the critical things you can do right now to lower your dementia risk? The first is that folks with the highest intake of flavonoids had a 19% decrease risk of cognitive decline.

Flavonoids have a few different subtypes: flavones, flavanones, anthocyanins. Flavones are found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. Highest versus lowest flavones intake was linked with a 38% reduction in cognitive decline risk. These are subjective tests. But still, these are significant risk reductions that you’re seeing.

Flavanones are found mainly in citrus fruits. Those folks who had the highest intakes of flavanones from citrus fruits had a 36% reduction.

Lastly, there are anthocyanins. These are present in blueberries, blackberries, and cherries. Highest versus lowest intake was linked with a 24% reduction in subjective cognitive decline.

So you have all of these colorful fruits and vegetables in the study that are rich in flavonoids and have potent effects on your brain health.  Even after adjusting for variables such as vitamins C, D, E, protein, fatty acids, carotenoids, the results were still significant.

So what can you take away from this? Focusing on a whole-food, plant-based diet gives you all of these nutritious foods that are good for your heart, lungs, kidneys, and even brain health. Start today by adding strawberries, oranges, grapefruits, citrus fruits, apples, pears, celery, peppers, and bananas to your diet.

Mechanisms

There are a few possible mechanisms to explain the study results. One is that fruits and vegetables serve as potent antioxidants. They scavenge those free radicals that can cause all sorts of inflammation. They can also inhibit or block beta-amyloid from damaging brain cells.

Flavonoids and anthocyanins also have some really interesting things they can do. They can lower inflammation in the brain called neuroinflammation. They also prevent those beta-amyloid fibrils from sticking together and forming plaques.

Flavonoids also increase BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factors. BDNF is essential for is learning and memory. So the more BDNF we have, the better we’re going to learn and the sharper our memory will be.

Limitations

Every study has limitations, and this study is no exception. Some of those limitations were using a food frequency questionnaire; it’s a correlation study and can’t prove causation. In other words, it can’t definitively say that eating strawberries will prevent memory decline. Instead, the study says that the people who eat the most abundant, colorful fruits and vegetables have the lowest risk of dementia.

Bottom Line

So what is the take-home message? What can you take apply to your life today? Adding colorful fruits and vegetables to every meal should be a part of your healthy diet. It’s good for your heart, kidneys, and just about every aspect of your body. And now we know that it’s also really good for the brain

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