I have written numerous articles about the effect of diet on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease risk, and now I want to discuss new peer-reviewed research showing that the MIND diet may lower the risk of dementia.
As I usually do, I want to look at this study and determine if it is powerful enough to give us some indication as to whether your diet choice may have a long-term effect on the risk of dementia.
What is dementia?
Before I proceed, it’s important to describe what are dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Both are chronic neurodegenerative diseases that usually start slowly and worsen over time. AD accounts for 60-70% of dementia cases, even though the terms are sometimes conflated. To be clear, Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia.
Amyloid plaques, phosphorylated tau tangles, and neurofibrillary tangles are generally easily visible pathologies that can be observed by microscopic analysis of brain tissue from autopsies of those potentially afflicted by AD. These plaques and tangles seem to have an effect on nerve functioning. Despite these observations, the disease’s precise pathophysiology, or development, is unknown.
Of course, dementia includes these pathologies, but because it is a broader term, it includes other types of neurological conditions that are not related to AD.
Finally, the etiology of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is not well understood. Many hypotheses about the causes of these diseases have been proposed, but most lack evidence to support a scientific consensus. Of course, without a firm understanding of the causes of the diseases, it makes it difficult to develop treatments and cures.
What is the MIND diet?
The MIND diet, which is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, emphasizes plant-based foods, limits the intake of animal-based foods along with those high in saturated fat, and promotes eating berries and leafy green vegetables.
The MIND diet, which stands for “Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay”, was developed with science-based evidence to provide the best nutrition for the aging brain. The MIND diet uses the best parts of both the Mediterranean and DASH diets, both of which have positive effects on cognitive and cardiovascular health.
The MIND diet suggests including the following nutritional choices:
- 3+ servings a day of whole grains
- 1+ servings a day of vegetables (other than green leafy)
- 6+ servings a week of green leafy vegetables
- 5+ servings a week of nuts
- 4+ meals a week of beans
- 2+ servings a week of berries
- 2+ meals a week of poultry
- 1+ meals a week of fish
- Mainly olive oil if added fat is used
The diet makes recommendations on “unhealthy” foods, which are generally higher in saturated and trans fats:
- Less than 5 servings a week of pastries and sweets
- Less than 4 servings a week of red meat (including beef, pork, lamb, and products made from these meats)
- Less than one serving a week of cheese and fried foods
- Less than 1 tablespoon a day of butter/stick margarine
Research on MIND diet and dementia
In a meta-analysis published on 3 May 2023 in the respected JAMA Psychiatry, Changzheng Yuan, ScD, of Zhejiang University School of Medicine in China, and co-authors analyzed three prospective cohort studies and provided a meta-analysis to determine whether the MIND diet affected the risk of dementia.
Yuan and co-authors analyzed data about middle-aged and older adults in three large prospective studies: the UK’s Whitehall II cohort, the USA’s Health and Retirement Study, and the Framingham Heart Study Offspring cohorts. They also conducted a meta-analysis of 11 observational studies that included 224,049 participants with 5,279 dementia cases
The key result was that the highest adherence to the MIND diet was tied to a 17% lower risk of dementia compared with the lowest adherence. That is a substantial reduction in risk.
Once again, I have to state a caveat with these types of studies — they are observational, meaning that the study may show correlations but the adherence to the diet cannot be strictly controlled. Moreover, how much the subjects adhered to the diet depends a lot on an accurate recording of their diet choices.
Individuals who have the highest adherence to the MIND diet may lead an overall healthier lifestyle. The highest adherence groups may not smoke, may have less obesity, or may exercise more.
These types of studies can show correlation, but they may not be able to establish causality. It would be better if we had a double-blind clinical trial with a control group, but these types of studies take decades to show an effect, and it would be impossible to blind the participants to their diet. So the best we have are these observational studies.
That being said, there are more and more studies that show that the MIND, DASH, and Mediterranean diets seem to be linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a lower risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
I give this article a 3.5 out of 5 stars, though it is a meta-analysis, which combines several studies together, so it could be slightly higher. Nevertheless, I am becoming convinced that these diets are the best for the aging brain.
- Chen H, Dhana K, Huang Y, Huang L, Tao Y, Liu X, Melo van Lent D, Zheng Y, Ascherio A, Willett W, Yuan C. Association of the Mediterranean Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diet With the Risk of Dementia. JAMA Psychiatry. 2023 May 3:e230800. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2023.0800. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37133875; PMCID: PMC10157510.
- Marmot M, Brunner E. Cohort Profile: the Whitehall II study. Int J Epidemiol. 2005 Apr;34(2):251-6. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyh372. Epub 2004 Dec 2. PMID: 15576467.
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