For better or for worse, what we eat can affect our cognitive function and the risk of developing dementia. Often, small changes to the diet are enough to slow down the aging processes and protect the brain, as evidenced by a very recent and very interesting research appeared in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease thanks to the work of a group of American scientists from Rush University Medical Center, Chicago (Klodian et al, JAD, 2021).
The causes of Alzheimer's
The most recent scientific studies have observed that the accumulation of beta amyloid proteins in the brain, until now considered the only cause of Alzheimer's, is actually not enough to trigger the onset of the disease. In fact, neuroinflammation must also be present. It may happen, for example, that in the brain there are considerable accumulations of beta amyloid proteins but that the person perfectly preserves the cognitive function, this means that the neuroinflammation has not reached levels such as to create the conditions for the actual start of the Alzheimer's disease with all its symptoms on a cognitive level. Inflammation in the brain can also be alleviated thanks to some dietary choices. In particular, there is a diet, called MIND diet, given by the combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, developed for the control of hypertension. Well, this diet would have been protective for brain health. Precisely to better understand this beneficial effect, the researchers developed the study we are talking about today, aimed at verifying the effective benefits of the MIND diet on cognitive function, even in the presence of accumulations of beta amyloid proteins.
The MIND diet
Before looking at the study in more detail, however, let's try to understand what the MIND diet consists of. First, it is an elastic diet, in the sense that it limits itself to recommending a minimum number of servings of certain health foods and a maximum of servings for the foods considered more inflammatory. Therefore, it is a simple diet to follow. The MIND diet includes, per day, at least three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable and another type of vegetable that is not green leafy. The daily snack should be based on dried fruit. Every other day the person should include legumes in the diet, while poultry and berries should be eaten at least twice a week, fish at least once a week. Some foods, on the other hand, should be limited. In particular, butter should not exceed one and a half teaspoons per day, for sweets, pastries, fatty cheeses, fast food and fried foods these should be limited to less than one serving per week.
The MIND diet protects cognitive function
Researchers drew on diet and health data from 569 participants in a large study, called the Alzheimer's Disease Center's ongoing Memory and Aging Project. Since 2004, every year, volunteers, all over 65, have been asked to fill out a questionnaire, specifying their usual diet, and to undergo tests and examinations to assess cognitive function and the accumulation of beta amyloid proteins. In the study we are talking about today, the researchers used this data to calculate the degree of adherence to the MIND diet and link this measure to the state of brain health. What emerged is that those with a high degree of adherence to the MIND diet also have a higher ability to memorize and think, regardless of the presence of accumulations of beta amyloid proteins. This type of diet, therefore, is neuroprotective and capable of increasing cognitive resilience even in elderly people.
Here is the proof that small tricks are enough, even at the table, to bring benefit to the brain and slow down or avert cognitive decline.