Can the MIND diet really lower the risk of developing dementia and improve your brain health?

As we age, our body starts to show some symptoms of deterioration. This is fundamentally an ordinary course of events. However, there are some specific illnesses we should aim to avoid. The tissue of aging human brains, for example, can produce aberrant protein clumps, which are a characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. How can you best defend your brain from these ramifications?

A particular diet called the MIND diet (a mix of the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet) claims to mitigate the deterioration of the aging brain. A group of Illinois scientists set out to put this diet to the test to see whether it truly has merit.

Image Credit: Elena Eryomenko via Shutterstock

Image Credit: Elena Eryomenko via Shutterstock

What exactly is in the MIND diet?

As mentioned above, the MIND diet is a research-based diet that sets out to improve brain function, reduce the risk of dementia and the decline in brain health that often transpires with aging. 

The MIND diet takes aspects of the DASH and Mediterranean diet and tweaks them to focus on enhanced brain function. Here's an example: both the DASH and Medeterainain diets advocate a high intake of fruit. The MIND diet tweaks and specifies this advice and recommends eating berries because this specific fruit has been correlated with improved brain function in scientific studies. 

As for the moment, the MIND diet has no strict instructions to fill in your daily meals. Instead, it encourages you to focus on some general guidelines of where to look and what not to eat. 

The diet promotes the daily consumption of vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables. Instead of fruit like apples, it encourages you to try berries as an in-between sweet treat. Although nuts are high in fat and calories, they have a high concentration of vitamin E; these are ideal for snacks. 

Margarine and butter should be avoided, so instead of cooking with those, the advice is to use olive oil (specifically extra virgin olive oil). Furthermore, if you want to adhere to the diet, you should try to avoid unhealthy foods such as red meats, cheese, pastries, and fried food. You can supplement these with beans, poultry, and fish. Finally, the consumption of alcohol is allowed but in moderation. 

Red wine is considered an acceptable choice in particular, be it in moderation - (Image Credit: Africa Studio via Shutterstock / HDR tune by Universal-Sci)

Red wine is considered an acceptable choice in particular, be it in moderation - (Image Credit: Africa Studio via Shutterstock / HDR tune by Universal-Sci)

Putting the MIND diet through its paces with randomized controlled/clinical trials

Previous research has established that the MIND diet may significantly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease dementia, even if the diet is not meticulously followed. Now, scientists at Rush University Medical Center wanted to see if moderate adherence to the diet later in life leads to better cognitive performance. 

In their research, the science team looked at links between diet (from the start of the study until death), brain diseases, and cognitive functioning in older people from the greater Chicago area that took part in the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center's ongoing Memory and Aging Project, which started all the way back in 1997. 

The participants were mostly without known dementia, and all of them underwent yearly clinical evaluations during their lifetime and agreed to a brain autopsy that would place after their death.

The team tracked 569 people who were given yearly assessments and cognitive tests to check if they had acquired memory and thinking difficulties. From 2004 on, participants were given an annual food frequency questionnaire in which they were asked how frequently they ate from a variation of 144 specified foods in the preceding year.

Based on the resulting data the scientists defined how close people followed the MIND diet guidelines. This assessment would lead to a so-called MIND diet score for each participant from the start of the study until the participant's death. (More exact parameters regarding these scores can be found in the paper listed below for those that are interested).

The results show that a higher MIND diet score is linked with better memory and thinking skills separately of Alzheimer's disease pathology and other common age-related brain pathologies. The diet appeared to provide protection and may improve cognitive resilience in the elderly.

Lead author of the study, Klodian Dhana MD, Ph.D., stated that changes in diet can affect cognitive performance and risk of dementia, for better or worse. According to Dhana, there are relatively easy lifestyle and diet changes a person could execute that may help reduce cognitive decline that comes with aging and provide a contribution to general brain health.

All things considered, the body of evidence in support of the MIND diet is growing rapidly. It may well be worth the effort to start altering your diet towards its guidelines. It has been shown that even moderate adherence may already provide significant benefits for your brain. 

The research has been published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and is listed below. Be sure to check it out for further detail.

Sources and further reading:

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