A study, published in the journal Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders this year, has found that adhering to a healthy diet can slash an individuals risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by 92% and 88% respectively compared to individuals with an unhealthy diet.
The Finnish researchers looked at data from 525 individuals who completed an extensive questionnaire on their dietary habits. The participants were assigned a healthy-diet score based out of 17 based on their consumption of certain foods. A score of 0 represented a very unhealthy diet and a score of 17 representing an extremely healthy diet.
Healthy diets consisted of high levels of fruit and vegetable, bread, fish, polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and coffee (which has been linked to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in some studies). Moderate alcohol consumption, not adding salt to meals, and cooking with vegetable based oils were also considered healthy dietary choices. Unhealthy diet components included sausages, eggs, sugary soft drinks, confectionery, and a high intake of saturated fats. Saturated fats tend to raise cholesterol levels and high cholesterol in mid-life has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease in several studies. Conversely, polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats have a cholesterol lowering effect.
The researchers found that individuals with a healthy diet score above 8 were a massive 90-92% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and 86-90% less likely to develop dementia than those with a healthy diet score below 8. The findings remained unchanged even after adjustment for potential co-founders such as smoking status, physical activity, BMI, and education level.
Although this was a relatively small study, the results are promising and suggest that a large percentage of dementias may be preventable through healthy dietary choices.
Alzheimer’s disease is becoming an increasing problem in Western societies due to a rapidly ageing population. Currently 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and this figure is predicted to increase to 13 million by 2050. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease at present and current treatments do little to slow the progression of the disease, only extending survival by a few months at best.
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