Growing old becomes a pain not only physically but mentally too as you start forgetting important things, names and events. Memory fades gradually to the extent that some even forget to remember whether they have consumed their meal or not. Such a loss of memory that hinders daily activities is a sign of Alzheimer’s-the most common cause of dementia that comprises of 60-80% of dementia cases. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that affects the reasoning, thinking and memory skills of an individual. The affected individual suffers from various symptoms and the most common among them include memory loss that affects routine life, failure to solve problems or face challenges, finding it difficult even to complete simple jobs at home, work or even while playing a board game, lose track of time, date or place, vision becomes a problem thereby affecting driving, find trouble holding a conversation or uttering words, misplace things quite often, challenges in decision making, seclusion from society and mood swings. Worse, some even forget how to eat and drink and try eating inedible items as well. Read more about Alzheimer’s at www.firsteatright.com.
Every person above the age of 65 is at a 2-time risk of suffering from the disease and more than a third of the population above the age of 85 is sure to develop the disease. Genetics, head injury and increased consumption of tobacco and alcohol increase the risk of Alzheimer’s whereas performing physical activity daily, staying socially active and eating a healthy diet decreases the risk of the disease. This brings us to the very question of whether diet changes can affect the risk of the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association has an answer to this based on research evidence. It recommends eating the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet to minimize your risk of suffering from dementia or heart disease.
Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was basically created for helping patients suffering from high blood pressure problems. DASH diet includes consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and restricts the consumption of saturated fats, salt and added sugars. It is quite similar to the Mediterranean diet except for that olive oil is not used mainly and it also does not encourage regular consumption of alcohol. In general, there are not many studies on the DASH diet regarding its role in delaying or preventing Alzheimer’s but from the research data available, there is a positive correlation between DASH diet and decreased risk of cognitive decline. A greater pool of research exists linking DASH diet with preventing health problems such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The DASH diet handles cardiovascular problems by reducing blood pressure and blood lipid levels. Cardiovascular health directly affects brain health and Alzheimer’s risk. Maybe this is a strong motivating factor for the Alzheimer’s Association to endorse DASH diet as a protective measure against Alzheimer’s.
This diet focuses mainly on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, foods containing heart-healthy fats such as olive oil, occasional indulgence in fish, poultry and dairy while limiting the consumption of red meat and salt. Numerous studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet helps in preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by 1.5-3.5 years. A 2018 study consisting of participants between 30 and 60 years who suffered from no dementia clearly shows the demarcation in dementia risk when an individual follows/not follows this diet. While half the participants diligently practiced eating the Mediterranean diet the other half caved into the whims and fancies of the Western diet. The participants received a brain image scan at the start and end of the two-year study. Those who followed the Western diet had higher betaamyloid protein deposits and lower energy use-both of which are early signs of dementia. Several reviews come up with ample data supporting the fact that eating a Mediterranean diet decreases the risk of brain-related problems that includes Alzheimer’s too. Though the reason behind this diet’s advantage on brain health remains to be excavated there are different theories pouring in. Some feel that the increased levels of antioxidants might serve the purpose while some others feel that the increased levels of healthy fats promotes vascular health which in turn promotes brain health. Still, we need more complex studies to come to definite conclusions regarding the effect of the Mediterranean diet on brain health.
Researchers have combined elements from the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet to create the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diet. A group of 900 seniors were involved in a study and they followed either the MIND, DASH or Mediterranean diet. After a 5-year follow up results showed that those seniors who followed a MIND diet reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 53% and when they followed the other two diets, still the risk reduced by as much as 35%. The MIND diet comprises of 15 elements-10 foods to eat and 5 foods to avoid. The 10 foods to eat include berries, beans, fish, green veggies, nuts, poultry, olive oil, veggies, whole grains and wine. The 5 foods to avoid include butter, cheese, fast/fried foods, pastries & sweets and red meats. Still, we need more research to back us on the advantages of the MIND diet.
Overall, it is advisable to follow a healthy diet, avoid viewing television, refrain from having many items on the plate, avoid plates that have geometric patterns on them, serve only 1-2 food items at a time, ensure the individual has ample time for the meal and make changes to the diet to include some of the individual’s favorite foods.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.