Can “brain food” really help prevent dementia? Here’s what the experts say.

Although nutritional studies pose a unique set of challenges, experts say there is a growing body of compelling evidence to suggest that certain diets may benefit an aging brain. Write for the New York TimesAmelia Nierenberg explains the link between diet and brain health.

4 Elements of a “Brain Boosting” Diet

Scientists still don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia – and there are currently no drugs on the market that can reverse the disease, said Uma Naidoo, director of the nutritional and metabolic psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“But,” Naidoo said, “we can impact how we eat.”

Research suggests that people with certain conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, are more likely to experience age-related cognitive decline. What’s more, the risks of developing these conditions can also be increased with poor diet and exercise habits, Naidoo explained, suggesting that people can take steps to reduce the risk of developing dementia.

To better understand the link between dementia and diet, Nierenberg spoke to two dozen researchers who identified four key components of a “brain-boosting” diet.

Leafy greens

According to Naidoo, one important change you can implement is to “up your veggie game” with nutrient-rich, fiber-rich leafy greens, which have been linked to slower age-related cognitive decline.

In a recent randomized controlled trial conducted in Israel, researchers performed brain scans on more than 200 people who had been divided into three diet groups. After 18 months, they found that those following a “green” Mediterranean diet experienced the slowest rate of age-related brain atrophy, closely followed by those following a traditional Mediterranean diet. However, participants who followed regular healthy eating guidelines — less plant-based, with more processed foods and more red meat compared to the other two diets — experienced greater declines in brain volume.

Colorful fruits and vegetables

In a 2021 observational study, researchers followed more than 77,000 people for about 20 years. According to the researchers, people who ate a diet high in flavonoids were less likely to show signs of age-related cognitive decline than those who consumed less flavonoids.

In particular, the MIND diet reports that berries, which are high in fiber and antioxidants, provide cognitive benefits.

“I don’t think there are miracle foods out there, but of course it’s really good to eat fruits and vegetables,” said Allison Reiss, a member of the Medical, Scientific and Health Screening Advisory Committee. memory at Alzheimer Foundation of America.


According to Nierenberg, “[m]all types of seafood, especially oily fish, are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have long been associated with better brain health and a reduced risk of age-related dementia or cognitive decline.

“Fish is brain food,” said Mitchel Kling, director of the memory assessment program at the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging to Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

In particular, a specific omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fatty cold-water fish, such as salmon, is “the most common brain fat,” Mosconi said. director of Alzheimer’s disease prevention program to Weill Cornell Medicine.

According to Mosconi, our body is not able to produce enough DHA on its own. “We have to provide it from the diet, which is a strong argument for eating fish.”

According to Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Healthtwo to three servings per week will provide “virtually all the benefits”.

Nuts, whole grains, legumes and olive oil

“Nuts and seeds have been repeatedly associated with slower cognitive decline,” writes Nierenberg.

In a 2021 review of 22 nut consumption studies involving nearly 44,000 people, researchers found that people at high risk of cognitive decline tended to see better outcomes when they increased their nut intake, especially nuts.

Additionally, whole grains and legumes, including lentils and soy, “also appear to have benefits for heart health and cognitive function,” Nierenberg adds. In a 2017 study of more than 200 people in Italy aged 65 and older, researchers found a link between eating three servings of legumes each week and better cognitive performance.

Meanwhile, a 2022 study of more than 92,000 American adults found that higher olive oil consumption was linked to a 29% reduced risk of dying from a neurodegenerative disease.

Dietary supplements may not have a significant impact on brain health

According to the experts Nierenberg spoke to, “there is little to no evidence that dietary supplements – including fatty acids, vitamin B, or vitamin E – will reduce cognitive decline or dementia.”

“Supplements cannot replace a healthy diet,” Mosconi said.

In a study of approximately 3,500 older adults, researchers determined that omega-3 supplements, often marketed for their ability to promote brain health, did not slow cognitive decline.

According to Willett, when it comes to supplements like fish oil, you don’t need to “load like a seal.”

Instead, Ronald Petersen, the director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, advised people to follow this advice: “If it’s from a plant, eat it. If it’s made in a plant, don’t eat it.” (Nierenberg, New York Times04/21)

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