Study explores the benefits of the MIND diet for older adults

Aging affects the body and the mind. For instance, the tissue of aging human brains at times develops abnormal clumps of proteins, the characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. How can the brain be safeguarded from these effects?

Study explores the benefits of the MIND diet for older adults
Image Credit: Rush University Medical Center.

Scientists from the Rush University Medical Center identified that older adults could take advantage of a specific diet named the MIND diet even when the protein deposits—called amyloid plaques and tangles—are developed. Tangles and plaques are pathologies observed in the brain that accumulate in between nerve cells and intervene with reasoning and problem-solving skills.

The MIND diet created by the late Rush nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, ScD, and her co-workers is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Earlier research works identified that the MIND diet might decrease an individual’s risk of advancing Alzheimer’s disease dementia.

Maintaining cognitive function

The current research has revealed that participants in the study who undertook the MIND diet relatively later in life did not suffer cognition problems. The research was published on September 14th, 2021, in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Some people have enough plaques and tangles in their brains to have a postmortem diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, but they do not develop clinical dementia in their lifetime. Some have the ability to maintain cognitive function despite the accumulation of these pathologies in the brain, and our study suggests that the MIND diet is associated with better cognitive functions independently of brain pathologies related to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Klodian Dhana, MD, PhD, Study Lead Author and Assistant Professor, Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Rush Medical College

Scientists analyzed the connection of diet—from the start of the study until death—with brain pathologies and cognitive functioning in older adults who took part in the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s advancing Memory and Aging Project, which started in 1997.

The project included individuals from greater Chicago. Participants were majorly white without known dementia, and all of them provided their consent to undergo yearly clinical evaluations while alive and brain autopsy after their death.

The scientists followed 569 participants, who were requested to complete yearly evaluations and cognitive tests to recognize if they advanced reasoning and memory problems. Commencing in 2004, the participants were provided an annual food frequency questionnaire on how frequently they had 144 food items in the earlier year.

Brain-healthy foods

By using the answers from the questionnaire, the scientists offered each participant a MIND diet score depending on how frequently they ate certain foods. The MIND diet consists of 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and five unhealthy groups—butter and stick margarine, pastries and sweets, cheese, fried or fast food, and red meat.

To stick to and gain from the MIND diet, an individual will have to intake at least three servings of a green leafy vegetable, whole grains, and one other vegetable each day—besides a glass of wine—snack on nuts majority of the days, consume beans each day or so. They should also intake berries and poultry at least twice a week and fish at least once a week.

The individuals must also limit their consumption of the designated unhealthy foods, restricting butter to less than one-and-a-half teaspoons a day and eating less than a serving a week of whole fat cheese, sweets, and pastries, and fried or fast food.

Depending on the frequency of consumption stated for the healthy and unhealthy food groups, the scientists evaluated the MIND diet score for respective participants throughout the research period. An average of the MIND diet score from the beginning of the study until the participant’s death was utilized in the investigation to restrict measurement error. Seven sensitivity measures were evaluated to ascertain the preciseness of the observation.

We found that a higher MIND diet score was associated with better memory and thinking skills independently of Alzheimer's disease pathology and other common age-related brain pathologies. The diet seemed to have a protective capacity and may contribute to cognitive resilience in the elderly.”

Klodian Dhana, MD, PhD, Study Lead Author and Assistant Professor, Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Rush Medical College

Dhana also stated, “Diet changes can impact cognitive functioning and risk of dementia, for better or worse. There are fairly simple diet and lifestyle changes a person could make that may help to slow cognitive decline with aging and contribute to brain health.”

Journal reference:

Dhana, K., et al. (2021) MIND Diet, Common Brain Pathologies, and Cognition in Community-Dwelling Older Adults. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AZoLifeSciences.
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