Did you know that eating healthy diet can have long-term benefits to your mental health? As it’s no secret that an unhealthy diet can wreak havoc on your body and cause long-term health problems, including an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. New research suggests that there may be a link between what you eat and your risk of developing dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s how the best defense against Alzheimer’s might be in your kitchen cupboard.
Healthy Diet: The Best Defense Against Dementia
What is dementia
The word dementia may conjure up an image of a forgetful senior citizen in a nursing home, but dementia is actually a broad term that describes a variety of conditions that cause impairment in memory, language, judgment and other cognitive functions. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia. The most common form of dementia overall, Alzheimer’s affects about 5 million Americans and 36 million people worldwide.
Other causes include stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and brain tumors. It’s hard to say exactly how many cases are caused by what because many people have multiple conditions at once (which can make treatment more complicated). In fact, there are some conditions that rarely cause symptoms until death, says Dr.
Can you prevent dementia
It’s not clear exactly how much of a role diet plays in a person’s risk for dementia, but what is clear is that it plays a role. In fact, several studies have suggested that people who eat healthier diets may be at lower risk for developing dementia. One study even showed that following a Mediterranean-style diet—rich in vegetables, fish, olive oil and nuts—may reduce your risk by as much as 50 percent over time. Exercise and stress reduction may also play a part in lowering your risk. So while it’s not clear exactly what will prevent dementia, making sure you eat right and stay active can help put you on track to stave off memory loss.
Studies show there are certain changes in diet and exercise habits you can make to keep yourself mentally fit into old age. For instance, some research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon might protect against cognitive decline; other research suggests getting plenty of vitamin B12 might do so as well (and these vitamins are especially important for older adults). Similarly, staying physically active has been associated with better brain health , since regular movement boosts blood flow throughout your body — including to your brain.
Is a healthy diet enough
No. While nutritionists recommend a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; low in red meats; and free of trans fats, saturated fats, salt, and sugar, there are no clinical studies suggesting that any specific eating plan can prevent dementia. What we do know is that maintaining a healthy weight throughout life helps reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease later on—and losing weight later in life won’t reverse mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
Eating right is one piece of protecting your brain health but so is staying active—as well as avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol intake. Any way you slice it, a healthy lifestyle trumps genetics when it comes to preventing dementia.
How much should I be eating
To prevent dementia, experts generally recommend that adults should eat a healthy diet, which consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins like chicken or fish. As part of a healthy diet you may also want to consider vitamin supplements. Nutritionists recommend taking 1,000 IU (international units) of vitamin E daily as well as 600 to 800 micrograms of folic acid each day.
It’s also wise to talk with your doctor about supplementing with other vitamins and minerals depending on your individual health needs. Maintaining a healthy diet is just one piece of prevention when it comes to preventing dementia—it’s important to do things like exercise regularly and get adequate sleep too.
If I already have dementia, can my diet make a difference
The idea that there’s a connection between nutrition and dementia risk is fairly well established. In a review published in September 2017, researchers examined nearly 40 years of research to assess just how much diet could help. The short answer: It seems like eating less meat and more healthy fat and protein can lead to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease (although it didn’t look at how those changes affect other types of dementia).
There’s also evidence that diabetes medications can actually decrease your odds of developing Alzheimer’s by 20 percent—and, in fact, medications for diabetes and high blood pressure may be helpful even if you don’t have these conditions. But we still don’t know exactly why food matters so much.
Tips on how to eat healthier
It’s true that food can have a profound effect on brain function. Certain foods—for example, leafy greens, walnuts, and fish—have been shown to boost brain health and even slow memory loss. But there’s another step you can take: eating smaller meals more frequently throughout your day.
Eating often helps stabilize blood sugar levels and allows for a steady stream of energy that keeps your brain sharp. Eat 3 small meals instead of 2 big ones each day; we recommend eating breakfast within an hour of waking up, a mid-morning snack within 4 hours of that meal, lunch 4 hours after breakfast, and dinner within 4 hours after lunchtime. By spreading out your calories over 6 or 7 meals rather than just two or three, you’ll feel more satisfied and less likely to overeat at any one sitting.