Healthy eating habits may preserve cognitive function and reduce the risk of dementia.

A group of U.S. scientists have found that, among nearly 6,000 older adults in a Health and Retirement Study, those who consistently followed diets long known to contribute to cardiovascular health were also more likely to maintain strong cognitive function in old age. They found that sticking to the Mediterranean diet was associated with 30 to 35 percent lower risk of cognitive impairment in healthy older adults. In fact, the investigators discovered that those with healthier diets exhibited meaningful preservation of cognitive function.  

  • The Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets were originally developed or codified to help improve cardiovascular health.
  • A hybrid of these diets, called the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, or MIND diet, is gaining attention for its potential positive effects on preserving cognitive function and reducing dementia risk in older individuals. A 2015 study found that individuals adhering to this diet exhibited less cognitive decline as they aged.

Other diet-related studies reported at AAIC 2017 included:

  • Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that – in a group of more than 2,200 older adults – people sticking to a Healthy Nordic Diet (including non-root vegetables, certain fruits, fish and poultry) enjoyed better cognitive status than individuals who ate a less healthy diet.
  • From more than 7,000 participants in the U.S.-based Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, researchers found that older women who ate diets traditionally thought of as heart-healthy, in particular the MIND Diet, were less likely to develop dementia.
  • A team of researchers at Columbia University presented data suggesting that poor diet may promote premature signs of brain aging through inflammatory mechanisms, which were also associated with smaller brain volume.

“Although the idea that a healthy diet can help protect against cognitive decline as we age is not new, the size and length of these four studies demonstrate how powerful good dietary practices may be in maintaining brain health and function,” said Keith Fargo, PhD, Alzheimer’s Association Director of Scientific Programs and Outreach.

“That said, we must understand that what we eat is just one part of the puzzle. Adapting our lifestyles as we get older – for example by exercising regularly, watching what we eat and engaging in lifelong learning – is important in order to maximize the potential to reduce risk of cognitive decline and dementia.”