The NIA asks, “Can eating a specific food or following a particular diet help prevent or delay dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease?” Many studies suggest that what we eat affects the aging brain’s ability to think and remember. These findings have led to research on general eating patterns and whether they might make a difference.
The Mediterranean diet, the related MIND diet (which includes elements designed to lower blood pressure), and other healthy eating patterns have been associated with cognitive benefits in studies, though the evidence is not as strong as it is for other interventions like physical activity, blood pressure and cognitive training. Currently, researchers are more rigorously testing these diets to see if they can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease or age-related cognitive decline.
Diet and Dementia Risk
Changes in the brain can occur years before the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear. These early brain changes suggest a possible window of opportunity to prevent or delay dementia symptoms. Scientists are looking at many possible ways to do this, including drugs, lifestyle changes and combinations of these interventions. Unlike other risk factors for Alzheimer’s that we can’t change, such as age and genetics, people can control lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, and cognitive training.
How could what we eat affect our brains? It’s possible that eating a certain diet affects biological mechanisms, such as oxidative stress and inflammation, that underlie Alzheimer’s. Or perhaps diet works indirectly by affecting other Alzheimer’s risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. A new avenue of research focuses on the relationship between gut microbes — tiny organisms in the digestive system — and aging-related processes that lead to Alzheimer’s.
The Mediterranean and MIND Diets and Alzheimer’s
One diet that shows some promising evidence is the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and other seafood; unsaturated fats such as olive oils; and low amounts of red meat, eggs, and sweets. A variation of this, called MIND (Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) incorporates the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which has been shown to lower high blood pressure, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.