This is one in a series of stories; visit The Daily Meal Special Report: The Quest for Longevity (and What Food Has to Do With It) for more.
Dementia is one of the direst afflictions associated with modern increases in longevity, as the likelihood of developing the disease increases dramatically as the human brain ages. Some form of dementia affects an estimated 47.5 million people worldwide, and of this number, somewhere between 60 and 80 percent suffer from Alzheimer’s disease — the rest suffering from related conditions such as vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s disease dementia, and several other forms. Because of its prevalence, Alzheimer’s has been the one most frequently studied to determine what factors and behaviors can put patients at a higher risk, and whether any strategies or therapies can prevent it.
While genetics, age, and family history — all crucial in determining dementia risk — are beyond our control, there are studies indicating that diet and lifestyle can contribute to the likelihood of developing dementia. Those who suffer from cardiovascular disease, for instance, are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who don’t. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “autopsy studies show that as many as 80 percent of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease also have cardiovascular disease.” These statistics should be a wakeup call about the importance of heart health for all those who don’t eat as carefully as they should.
Of interest to those inclined to pursue proactive dietary measures to ward off dementia, a study published in 2015 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the American Alzheimer’s Association suggests that the so-called MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet can lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by up to 53 percent for those who follow it diligently. This regimen incorporates aspects of the more widely known DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.
The diet highlights 10 food groups that are good for your brain — green leafy vegetables (as well as other vegetables), nuts, beans, berries, fish, whole grains, poultry, olive oil, and wine — and five that aren’t — butter and margarine, cheese, red meats, sweets, and fried/fast food. For the diet to work best, you should eat at least three servings of whole grains, salad, one other vegetable, and a glass of wine each day, while snacking on nuts most days. You should consume beans roughly every other day, fish at least once during the week, and poultry and berries twice a week.
Among the millions of people suffering from Alzheimer’s is famed cookbook writer Paula Wolfert, a member of The Daily Meal Council. At the age of 72 she sensed something was wrong when she realized that she’d forgotten how to make an omelette, but she wasn’t diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease until several years later. Following her diagnosis, she began working with the Alzheimer’s Association to raise awareness of the disease and develop superfood smoothie recipes, using vegetables as recommended in the MIND-DASH diet, to help others stave off memory loss.
While there are other studies that suggest that various beverages — such as beer (due to its hops content) or coffee (if you drink at least three cups a day) — can help prevent Alzheimer’s, if you're serious about minimizing your chances of suffering from dementia later in life, you'll want to follow the well-studied MIND diet. Don’t hesitate to try the diet just because you’re afraid you won’t be able to stick to it rigorously — you’ll still be lowering your risk by 35 percent just by following the guidelines moderately well.