Everyone I know, patients and friends, are concerned about their cognitive (brain thinking) ability as they get older. "Doc, I'm not as sharp as I used to be and I can't remember names like I used to. Am I getting Alzheimers? What can I do to prevent it?"
A new study just out today in Neurology shows that people who consumed an anti-inflammatory diet that includes more fruits, vegetables, beans and tea or coffee, had a lower risk of developing dementia later in life. Inflammation within the immune system increases as people age and this damages our brain cells. How wonderful that we can combat this by changing our diet.
The study looked at 1,059 people who had an average age of 73 and DID NOT HAVE dementia. These people answered a questionnaire about what they consumed during the previous month, including dairy, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, legumes, fats, alcohol, stimulants and sweets. Fewer servings of fruits, vegetables, beans, tea or coffee was considered inflammatory and a score was made depending upon amounts people ate.
They divided the participants into three equal groups; those with the lowest dietary inflammatory score, medium and highest scores. Those with the lowest score ate a more anti-inflammatory diet. They ate an average per week of 20 fruits, 19 vegetables, 4 beans and legumes and 11 coffee or tea. Those in the group with the highest inflammatory scores ate an average per week of 9 fruits, 10 vegetables, 2 legumes and nine coffee or tea.
The researchers followed these subjects for three years and over that time 62 (6%) developed dementia. They were the lowest scores, eating the most inflammatory foods. After adjusting for age, sex and education, researchers found that each one point increase in dietary inflammatory score was associated with a 21% increase in dementia.
This study was an observational one and depended upon people reporting their diets. There is no "proof" but the indication is that eating an anti-inflammatory diet prevents brain aging and dementia.
I think its amazing that they were able to come to these findings after only 3 years, but they started with an already older population. Imagine if this same study was done with younger people and followed for decades. I suspect the findings would be even more profound. Many other studies have shown us that we are what we eat and the importance of a plant based diet for longevity. Have you had your 5 fruits and vegetables today?
The study was supported by the Alzheimer's Association, the European Social Fund and the Greek Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity. (don't you like that name? I do).