Nutrition is an important part to staying healthy, but can eating specific foods actually help prevent or delay dementia caused by Alzheimer’s? Many studies suggest that may be the case.
There is currently evidence showing that what we eat affects our cognitive ability. However, the evidence isn’t as strong as other studies focusing on similar prevention methods, like exercise, blood pressure, and cognitive training.
Most studies are either too small or too short to say for sure whether or not your diet could prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers are testing a variety of diets, foods, and supplements to get the needed evidence.
What we know so far
As of right now, we know that the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s can happen years after the first changes in the brain. This creates a window of opportunity, suggesting that there may be a way to prevent or delay cognitive decline.
The most common, scientifically-backed dementia risk factors include oxidative stress and inflammation, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Since your diet can affect these aspects, it may indirectly prevent Alzheimer’s as well.
Regardless of the evidence, eating healthy is a good lifestyle choice in general and should be adopted by everyone. Watching what you eat is a must if you want to stay healthy as you age.
Current best diets for preventing Alzheimer’s disease
The most promising diets are the Mediterranean and MIND diet. The Mediterranean emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Some studies have shown that individuals who partook in the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk for dementia. These studies compared one group of Mediterranean dieters to those who ate the Western-style diet, which included more red meat, saturated fats, and sugar.
A variation of the Mediterranean diet is the MIND diet, which has been shown to lower high blood pressure. Since high blood pressure has been connected to Alzheimer’s, following this diet could indirectly reduce your risk for dementia.
The MIND diet focuses more on plant-based foods, including leafy greens, berries, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, wine, and olive oil, while limiting red meat, sweets, cheese, butter, and fried food.
Evidence coming from studies of more than 900 older adults found that there was a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and a slower rate of cognitive decline after following the MIND diet.
However promising these studies are, there still isn’t enough evidence to prove that the Mediterranean or MIND diet can effectively prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists still aren’t sure why these diets may help the brain.
Some scientists think that their effects on improving cardiovascular health may in turn reduce dementia while others suggest that eating fish may be the strongest factor. Other possibilities include increased nutrient intake that may protect the brain through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Can vitamins and supplements help prevent cognitive decline?
Vitamins and supplements are commonly perceived to help prevent cognitive decline, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
Some studies have looked at the relation between over-the-counter vitamins and preventing Alzheimer’s. And despite some early findings of possible benefits for brain health, the overall evidence is too weak to make a final conclusion.
Regardless of their effects on your mental health, getting sufficient nutrition through your meals is very important for healthy aging. If you think you aren’t getting all of your daily nutrients or vitamins, it may be a good idea to consider taking vitamins or dietary supplements.
But proceed with caution. Supplement companies realize there is a lot of confusion and worry around Alzheimer’s and they are capitalizing on this fear. Some companies are marketing their products as “brain-enhancers” or “dementia-preventers.” These statements are based on shallow data that should not be used as a means to sell more products.
It is best to consult your doctor first, before purchasing or consuming any vitamins or supplements. They should be able to point you towards the right products so you aren’t convinced by false advertising.
The Bottom Line
The idea that inflammation, nutritional-deficiencies, diabetes, and obesity can cause an increased risk of Alzheimer’s has led scientists to study potentially cognitive-enhancing diets. And although there haven’t been enough studies to say for certain if these diets can prevent Alzheimer’s, there is some early promising evidence.
The diets with the current highest-potential for preventing Alzheimer’s include the Mediterranean and MIND diets. These diets have been found to cause major health benefits that could indirectly reduce your risk of cognitive decline.