What do we know about diet and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease?

The National Institute of Health (NIH) shared that many studies suggest that our diet may affect 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.

One diet that shows promising evidence of health benefits is the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes eating 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 diet, 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.

While scientists aren’t sure why the Mediterranean diet might help the brain, its effect on improving cardiovascular health might in turn reduce dementia risk. Two recent studies suggest that, as part of this diet, eating fish may be the strongest factor influencing higher cognitive function and slower 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.

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