Diet and Alzheimer's Prevention
How Diet Can Influence The Risk of Alzheimer's
Our diet is closely tied to our overall health. Recently, a growing body of evidence has linked diet to both brain health and the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia.
Evidence has shown that certain nutrients are beneficial to the brain’s health, while other types of food can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Researchers have designed specific diets to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by maximizing brain-healthy foods and minimizing harmful foods.
How Diet and Nutrition Affects the Risk of Alzheimer’s
Researchers have discovered links between specific foods and brain health. They have found that regular consumption of certain foods is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's, while regular consumption of other types of foods is associated with an increased risk.
While not every link is completely understood, researchers have developed reasonable theories which explain many of the observed benefits and risks.
Heart Health Directly Affects Brain Health
The most easily-understood link between diet and brain health is that the health of the heart directly affects the health of the brain- foods which are unhealthy for the heart are also unhealthy for the brain.
The heart is literally the pump which provides the brain with the fresh blood it requires to function. A healthier heart is able to provide the brain with more blood. This difference in blood supply can be the difference between a healthy brain and one susceptible to cognitive decline.
Foods to Include in Your Diet
Healthy Fats (Omega 3s)
Omega 3-6-9s are healthy types of fats that the brain requires to perform certain functions. Consumption of Omega 3s have also been shown to be beneficial for heart health. Omega 3s are unique in that they cannot be created by the body, they can only be obtained through diet.
Learn More: The Brain Benefits of Omega 3-6-9s
Foods High in Antioxidants
Some foods contain high level of antioxidants. Antioxidants may protect from some of the damage done to the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. Antioxidants may also increase the amount of certain protective proteins.
Vitamin E and Vitamin K have both been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been shown to be a contributing factor to heart disease and is believed to contribute to the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Learn More: What Are Antioxidants?
Vitamins and Nutrients the Brain Needs to Function
The brain needs certain vitamins and nutrients to function. Individuals whom are deficient in certain nutrients, especially for an extended period of time, are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's or dementia.
Learn More: Vitamins and Supplements for the Brain
Foods to Monitor and Limit
Diets high in salt can be dangerous for both the heart and the brain. The Food and Drug Administration recommend no more than 2,300 mg of salt per day- an amount equivalent to a single teaspoon! It’s important to check the labels of the food you’re eating, as most processed food is surprisingly high in sodium.
Saturated and Trans Fats
Unhealthy fats, saturated and trans, have both been found to be harmful to the heart and brain. Saturated fats are most commonly found in red meat and butter while trans fats are most often found in processed foods.
The two most widely-recognized diets to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia are the Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet.
The Mediterranean diet aims to replicate the style of cuisine common in the region surrounding the Mediterranean sea. The diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish and contains low amounts of red meat and dairy.
This diet originally rose to popularity in the 1960s when it was found to be linked to a lower risk of heart disease. In more recent years, the Mediterranean diet has been associated with a lower risk in developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Mediterranean Diet Overview
The Mediterranean diet is primarily based around the inclusion of seafood, vegetables, and whole grains. It avoids processed foods and red meat.
Eat Liberally - Seafood, fish, fruits, vegetables, seeds, whole grains, whole grain bread, and extra virgin olive oil
Eat Occasionally - Poultry, dairy, eggs
Eat Rarely - Red meat
Avoid - Processed grains (white bread, pastries), processed meats, full-sugar beverages, and other processed foods
Learn More: Mediterranean Diet Meal Examples and Plan
Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Decay
While the Mediterranean diet aims to simulate the natural cuisine of a region, the MIND diet was developed by researchers in an effort to create a diet designed to improve brain function and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
MIND Diet Overview
The MIND diet was specifically created to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia.
The MIND divides foods into two broad categories. The first category it simply recommends eating more of, and the second category it recommends minimizing consumption.
10 Foods to Eat
Whole Grains - Aim for three servings of whole grains each day. Oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and whole wheat bread are all excellent options. Avoid processed grains like white bread.
Fish - Consume fish twice a week. “Fatty fish” like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are recommended due to their high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Poultry - Aim to eat chicken or turkey twice a week.
Green, leafy vegetables - Aim for one serving a day of kale, spinach, cooked vegetables, or salads.
Other vegetables- In addition to the green leafy vegetables try to have at least one serving of another type of vegetable daily.
Beans - Eat four servings of beans a week.
Nuts - Aim for five servings of nuts each week. Nuts contain many healthy fats.
Berries - Consume two servings of berries twice a week. Berries, especially blueberries are high in antioxidants.
Olive Oil - Avoid processed oils and opt for extra virgin olive oil as your primary cooking oil.
Wine - While wine, especially red wine, can be beneficially in moderation be careful not to drink excessively. Avoid drinking more than one glass a day.
5 Foods to Minimize
Red Meat - Limit red meat to two servings each week. Red meat includes pork, beef, lamb and all derivative products. Processed foods like hot dogs and sliced ham also come with the additional detriment of higher levels of sodium.
Trans Fats (Fried Food) - The MIND diet discourages trans and saturated fats. Trans fats are frequently found in fried food. Limit yourself to one serving per week.
Pastries and Processed Sweets - Be careful with your intake of sweets. Cookies, ice cream, donuts, cake, candy bars, etc should be limited to 4 times a week
Cheese - Aim to limit cheese consumption to once per week.
Butter - Aim to consume less than 1 tablespoon of butter each day. If you have to go over, look for an alternative that is based around extra virgin olive oil.
Learn More: MIND Diet Meal Examples and Plan
The Mediterranean and MIND diets are quite similar, to decide which is right for you, consider what each diet entails and follow the one that you believe is most in-line with your tastes and preferences. After all, a diet is only effective when followed.
Even if you don’t want to completely follow one of these diets, evidence has shown that individuals who make even small changes to their diet in line with the above recommendations can lower their risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
A concise introduction to Alzheimer's, what causes it, and how to prevent and treat it.