Is Your DIET causing Alzheimers?

An important new study released in London conclusively links diet and Alzheimer’s disease, providing even more evidence that you can protect your brain by watching what you eat. 

At the recent Alzheimer Association’s International Conference in the U.K, researchers revealed that following either a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet or its close cousin, the MIND diet (see picture below), can reduce future cognitive impairment by up to 35 percent.

Although earlier studies had linked heart-healthy diets to better cognitive function, today’s study, by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, is important for having the size (6,000 adults who participated in the Health and Retirement survey) and type of subjects (cognitively healthy at the start) to conclusively link diet and Alzheimer’s and “make the results quite generalizable to a broader group,” says lead researcher Claire McEvoy.

And while the two diets studied vary slightly — the main difference stems from MIND’s bigger emphasis on leafy green vegetables and its restriction on all fruit but berries — McEvoy says focusing on particular foods is not the point. “The diets as a whole seem to have the greatest benefit. Foods and nutrients seem to work together to provide the benefits.” As for how healthy choices like spinach and blueberry salads work their brain-saving magic, ideas vary. “It could be that they reduce inflammation, which has been strongly implicated with cognitive decline,” McEvoy says. Or, she adds, the diets’ power could be related to “the profound positive effect that a high-quality diet has on the vascular system,” which in turn affects brain health.

But while science shows that the diets work as a whole, the benefits of decisions like choosing whole grains over processed flour or cooking with olive oil aren’t all or nothing. The study’s results, says Maria Carrillo, chief science officer at the Alzheimer’s Association, show the positive effects of improving nutrition even a bit. “Of course, you get the biggest result if you follow the diet completely, but even little changes can have a significant impact.” 

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