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Articles October 2015 Issue

New Dietary Approach Against Alzheimer’s

MIND diet combines proven patterns with brain-specific research.

Image © Thinkstock

While both a Mediterranean-style diet and the DASH eating plan are associated with brain benefits, a hybrid dietary pattern that combines the best of both with the latest cognitive research may protect memory and thinking even better. A new study reports that the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet was associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline—equivalent to 7.5 years of younger age. Those with the highest MIND diet scores were 53% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those with the lowest scores.

The lower risk for those most closely following the MIND diet was similar to those with the highest adherence to a Mediterranean diet (54%) and the DASH plan (39%). But only the top one-third of Mediterranean and DASH scores were associated with lower Alzheimer’s risk. The second-highest third of MIND scores were also associated with lower risk (35%), however, suggesting that even modest dietary improvements following the MIND pattern could be beneficial.

“Inflammation and oxidative stress play a large role in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Tammy Scott, PhD, a scientist at Tufts’ HNRCA Neuroscience and Aging Laboratory. “The MIND diet particularly emphasizes foods, such as green leafy vegetables, berries and olive oil, which are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that may help to protect against dementia and cognitive decline.”

HEALTHY HYBRID: Martha Clare Morris, ScD, of Rush University, and colleagues developed the MIND diet score as a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. But it also particularly focuses on “the dietary components and servings linked to neuroprotection and dementia prevention.” (See box.) Similar to those diets, MIND “emphasizes natural plant-based foods and limited intakes of animal and high saturated-fat foods but uniquely specifies the consumption of berries and green leafy vegetables.”

There are some other differences. The MIND diet doesn’t specify high fruit consumption other than berries. MIND drops the DASH recommendation for high dairy consumption and calls for only weekly fish consumption, lower than the Mediterranean diet.

A MORE DOABLE DIET?: Scientists compared the three diets using data on 923 participants in the Rush Memory and Aging Project, ages 58 to 98, followed for an average 4.5 years. Participants were initially free of Alzheimer’s disease; during the study, 144 incident cases of Alzheimer’s were diagnosed.

Participants filled out a 144-item food questionnaire. Their responses were then assigned points to score how closely their diets matched each of the three dietary patterns being tested. Results were published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

Although the observational study was not designed to prove cause and effect, Morris and colleagues noted that the results “suggest that even modest adjustments to the diet may help to reduce one’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease. For example, the MIND diet score specifies just two vegetable servings per day, two berry servings per week, and one fish meal per week.” Those recommendations are much lower and easier to achieve than comparable guidelines in the Mediterranean or DASH plans.

The MIND diet might not necessarily also be the best blueprint for cardiovascular health (which can in turn affect your brain), however. The American Heart Association recommends two weekly servings of fish, for example, and current evidence supports oils higher in polyunsaturated fat, rather than olive oil, for heart health.

Comments (6)

This prescription as to what to eat seems much too complex to follow without having a personal cook to do elaborate meal planning. I am definitely not a vegetarian but, if you are, should you assume that you are more likely to get Alzheimer's?

Posted by: Elise Bodtke | September 26, 2015 11:30 AM    Report this comment

The big problem in almost any diet is the term 'serving' (aside from having the determination to stick to it and not cheat, of course). What does the term mean in ounces? Is it the same for every food? We can be left eating portions too small to make a difference, or so large we end up gorging ourselves. Any guidance here??

Posted by: S. Cohen | October 21, 2015 11:25 AM    Report this comment

Come on guys, This is easy! The trick is to devise dishes you like and eat them often: oatmeal with raisins, walnuts and fruit ( buy nuts and seeds in the bulk foods aisle and keep them in jars); Spinach or kale steamed or sauteed , then tossed with oilive oil and garlic over whole wheat pasta (OK,whole wheat pasta is not, like, pasta but it is something else very, very good) Steamed mixed veggies ( or sauteed in sesame oil, (high temp and delicious in asian dishes) then mixed with a little tamari sauce ( soyl with ginger and garlic) or ponzu ( fab) and served over brown rice (Yum). Well- bred chicken with salsa fresca or, if you like, hot salsa, wrapped in corn tortillas. Go to the supermarket "ethnic" aisle and choose sauces and dressings from your prefered ethnicities, after reading the ingredients, of course. With a little attention and effort--mostly in the shopping-- you can put far better tasting stuff on the table within the limits of any one of these diets. R

Posted by: PJ Roberts | October 21, 2015 1:02 PM    Report this comment

I remember a video on Dr. Michael Greger's website, nutritionfacts.org, where he said in essence that vegetarians have much lower rates of alzheimers than non-vegetarians (search "alzheimers" in their search bar). I hypothesize that vegans should have lower rates of alzheimers than even vegetarians since they don't eat animal products and fats are very low on that diet. It will be interesting to see how vegans do in a big study but there aren't that many of them to study!

Posted by: K Walden | April 18, 2016 9:19 AM    Report this comment

The one thing that bothers me about the MIND diet is: why should I eat poultry twice a week? I know fish like salmon have positive health benefits, as do beans, but chicken? Mainly to ensure enough protein?? Would three servings of fish and none of chicken be just as good?

Also, I think that this way of listing the MIND Score may lead to confusion. I've read it elsewhere with a distinction between those things that you should eat and those that you should limit. So
"Red meats, fewer than 4 servings/week" might be interpreted as "eat red meat, but no more than 4 times a week," whereas what the MIND guidelines really say is "limit red meat consumption; in particular, do not eat more than 4 servings of red meat a week." So by eating NO red meat in a week, you score a full point.

Posted by: Jean Taylor | April 18, 2016 12:39 PM    Report this comment

The longest living healthiest people are vegans, Seventh day Adventists from California, who exercise regularly. Someone said the diet was complex, but I really don't think so, unless playing on devices is more important than a little work cooking. Berries, beans, and nuts require almost no work, and I do not think steaming a few vegetables too hard. My wife & I make everything from scratch. I cook a weeks worth of oatmeal, no sugars at once, make my own almond milk, and have it daily with blueberries, strawberries, chopped nuts, banana, home made granola. I cook lentils, garbanzo beans, black or red beans in a pressure cooker and it takes less than 15 minutes total. We make our own peanut butter, no additives and have whole grain breads. We work together and make it fun. I also would add that exercise is a key.

Posted by: Robert Haile | April 18, 2016 1:42 PM    Report this comment

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