- Following a healthy diet such as the Mediterranean or MIND diet can potentially delay brain aging and reduce the amount of brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
- These diets work effectively due to their high nutrient content derived from plant-based foods and the absence of red meat, sugar, and heavily processed foods.
- Individuals who consume about a cup of leafy greens daily may possess a brain age that’s approximately four years younger compared to those who abstain from such vegetables.
- Research indicates a strong link between healthy eating and a more youthful brain appearance, even after considering other external factors like income level, education, and lifestyle choices.
- Adopting a healthier eating pattern at any point in life may be beneficial as according to Dr. Agarwal, “it’s never too late” to modify your diet for the better.
Elderly people who consume a copious amount of leafy green vegetables, fish, and other nutritious foods might be able to delay their brain’s aging, as per a recent study.
Seniors who follow either of two healthful diet patterns – the Mediterranean and MIND diets – had fewer brain “plaques,” abnormal clusters of protein typically associated with Alzheimer’s disease, the study found.
Interestingly enough, individuals that earned the highest Mediterranean or MIND scores were shown to possess brains that appeared up to 18 years younger than those who stick more rigorously to a less healthy diet.
Is Healthy Eating Connected to Brain Health?
While the study findings do not definitively establish that a diet high in spinach and fish could stave off dementia, it contributes to the growing volume of evidence that links healthy eating to a more slowly aging brain.
The senior explorer of the research, Dr. Puja Agarwal, referred to the study outcome as “stirring,” as it implies that even a modest dietary shift could make a significant difference.
Agarwal also suggested that based on the study’s findings, seniors who incorporate about a cup of leafy greens daily into their diet may have a brain that’s about four years younger compared to counterparts who avoid vegetables like kale and spinach.
Link Between Diet Patterns and Dementia
This study, which was unveiled earlier in Neurology, has added another layer to the existing research on diet and dementia. It has previously been established that both the Mediterranean and MIND diets are linked to a decrease in mental decline, as well as a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
This recent analysis ties these dietary patterns to fewer objective signs of Alzheimer’s, which are the plaques that start forming in the brain years before symptoms of dementia become noticeable.
Why do the Mediterranean and MIND Diet Patterns Work?
The traditional Mediterranean diet – often connected with lower risks of stroke and heart disease – usually comprises abundant fish, olive oil, beans, nuts, vegetable, and fiber-rich grains.
The MIND diet, which heavily emphasizes leafy green vegetables and berries over other fruit and veggies, is based on research indicating a connection between brain health and these specific foods. Both diets are high in plant-derived foods which are rich in nutrients and possess anti-inflammatory and cell protective properties.
Equally important in these dietary patterns is the absence of red meat, sugar, and heavily processed foods. The new findings were derived from autopsied brain tissues taken from 581 participants from a project focused on memory and aging. Annually, the participants completed comprehensive dietary questionnaires, which the researchers utilized to assign a Mediterranean and a MIND diet “score” to each of the 581 deceased participants.
Results from the Study
Results suggested that the participants with the highest scores on the Mediterranean diet had a brain age equivalent to 18 less years of plaque buildup than those who scored the lowest. Similar but slightly smaller differences were observed for the MIND diet scores.
Food-wise, people who consumed at least seven servings of leafy greens per week delayed about 19 years of brain aging, as compared to peers who ate up to one serving a week.
Even with external factors accounted for – like income level, education, chronic medical conditions, and lifestyle choices such as exercise and smoking – a strong link between healthy eating and youthful brain appearance persisted.
Response from Other Experts
Dr. Heather Snyder, Vice President of Medical and Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, found the findings “entrancing”. A current clinical trial led by the Alzheimer’s Association is attempting to identify if a combinatory change in lifestyle – which includes the MIND diet – can slow cognitive decline in older adults.
Although the best lifestyle “recipe” is as yet unclear, Dr. Snyder said it is clear that people should aim to maintain a “heart-healthy diet that incorporates nutrients that our bodies and brains need to be at their peak.”
Conclusion and Future Research
It remains unknown whether the participants’ diets had been consistently the same throughout their lives, or if they made changes at some point. Yet, as Dr. Agarwal suggested, “it’s never too late” to modify your diet for the better.
For further insights into keeping your brain healthy as you age, visit this resource provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.
SOURCES: Dr. Puja Agarwal, assistant professor, internal medicine, Chicago’s Rush University Medical College and Medical Center; Dr. Heather Snyder, vice president, Medical and Scientific Relations, Alzheimer’s Association, Chicago; Neurology, March 8th, 2023, online publication.