Does a heart-healthy diet improve brain health?

Health, Fitness & Food
heart-healthy diet

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Researchers in Ireland recently studied whether a heart-healthy diet affects thinking and memory skills in mid-life.

In 2017, almost 44 million people worldwide suffered from Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. Thirty per cent of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have heart disease, and 29% have diabetes. It is known that a heart-healthy diet improves the risk of having heart disease and diabetes. Because of this, scientists are interested in determining if there are links between other diseases, diet, and cognitive function.

Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland recently completed a 30-year study to determine if there is any link between a heart-healthy diet and brain health. The findings from the Irish study were published in the journal Neurology.

The researchers followed 2,621 people beginning at an average age of 25 for thirty years. The participants’ diets were reviewed to determine whether they were closest to these diets: Mediterranean diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, and the A Priori Diet Quality Score (APDQS).

The participants were interviewed about their diets at the beginning of the study, and at seven and 20 years into the study. The researchers grouped the participants based on how well they stuck to the diets – low, medium, or high. Their brain health was tested between the ages of 50 and 55 years.

The Mediterranean and A Priori Diets offered the most benefits for brain health

Researchers found that the Mediterranean and APDQS diets offered the most benefits to brain health, while the DASH diet benefits to brain health were insignificant. The most beneficial aspects of those diets were higher levels of monounsaturated fats, such as those found in extra virgin olive oil, and higher intake of beans and peas.

The study was limited because it was observational and does not allow all possible causes of diminished brain health to be considered. Another limitation was the short period of follow up time between brain health assessments and nutritional diet measures that would help to prove the study’s findings.

In the press release, study author Claire T. McEvoy, PhD said, “While we don’t yet know the ideal dietary pattern for brain health, changing to a heart-healthy diet could be a relatively easy and effective way to reduce the risk for developing problems with thinking and memory as we age.”

Lowering the risk to brain health such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease might seem like an almost impossible task. However, changing to a heart-healthy diet could provide multiple benefits, now and in the future, and might improve brain function in the process.

Written by Rebecca K. Blankenship, B.Sc.

References:

  1. Bowman G, Scarmeas N. Dietary patterns in early life pay dividends for midlife cognitive performance. Neurology. 2019:10.1212/WNL.0000000000007229. doi:10.1212/wnl.0000000000007229
  2. Alzheimer’s Statistics. Alzheimers.net. https://www.alzheimers.net/resources/alzheimers-statistics/. Published 2019. Accessed March 15, 2019.

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