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DIET Developed By Researchers Can Strengthen the Brain in Two Critical Ways

Late Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist, studied foods and nutrients associated explicitly with lower cognitive decline and lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and in 2015, premiered the MIND diet.

Ayushi Raina
Girl in Parachute looking at fruits and vegetables
Girl in Parachute looking at fruits and vegetables

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. But what you eat also shapes who you become. Decades of nutritional research have repeatedly shown this. A diet particularly designed for brain health, on the other hand, was lacking from the equation.

Recognizing this, the late Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist, researched foods and nutrients linked with reduced cognitive decline and risk of Alzheimer's disease, and in 2015, premiered the MIND diet.

The MIND diet is a hybrid between the Mediterranean and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diets (its name is a combo of those two diets). And it recently passed its most recent test.

A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease in September found that the MIND diet can delay cognitive decline and lower the likelihood of Alzheimer's disease dementia.

This was true even though study participants' brains still acquired the aberrant protein clumps associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Klodian Dhana, the first author, is an assistant professor at Rush University. His study focuses on identifying dementia risk factors. In the absence of a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, scientists are attempting to determine which modifiable lifestyle variables might reduce the likelihood of cognitive decline. “Nutrition has gained interest because it is easily modifiable,” he says.

“I hope the study's findings inspire individuals to live a healthy lifestyle through eating, exercise, and cognitive activities,” he says.

HOW THE DISCOVERY WAS MADE — Dhana and colleagues analysed data from Rush University's ongoing Memory and Aging Project, which included 569 individuals. These people resided in the greater Chicago region and began providing their vital statistics in 1997. In 2004, a yearly food frequency questionnaire was added to the mix, which assessed how frequently people ate specific foods.

All participants agreed to clinical assessments while alive and a brain autopsy after death.

Each participant received a MIND diet score depending on how closely they followed to meals within it. The MIND diet includes ten brain-healthy food categories and five unhealthy dietary groups: Butter and stick margarine, cheese, fried and fast food, pastries and sweets, and red meat are all examples of unhealthy foods.

Following the MIND diet correctly requires daily intake of:

• A minimum of three servings of whole grains

• A green leafy vegetable

• Another vegetable

• A glass of wine

Nuts as snacks were also included, beans every other day, poultry and berries twice a week, and fish at least once a week. Consumption of items in the unhealthy foods group was limited as part of proper adherence.

Almost 70% of the participants were female, the average level of education was 15 years, and the average age at death was 91 years.

Participants with a higher MIND diet score also had superior memory and cognitive skills as they aged. However, autopsies of their brains revealed something astonishing: while some of their brains had the protein deposits frequently observed in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease — enough to merit a postmortem diagnosis – they never acquired clinical dementia.

This shows that the MIND diet improves cognitive performance regardless of Alzheimer's disease pathology. The results are consistent with earlier studies: The MIND diet, for example, has been linked to delaying the development of Parkinson's disease and causing the brains of elderly adults to operate as if they are 7.5 years younger than their peers.

How does the mind diet work?

While it has been proven that the MIND diet adds to cognitive resilience, it appears to have little effect on how the brain physically evolves. So, why is it still useful?

It may come down to the antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties of the foods consumed. These foods have been shown to protect the brain regardless of age. Green leafy vegetables and nuts, according to the study authors: These are high in nutrients, such as Vitamin E. Vitamin E, on the other hand, is an antioxidant that protects neurons from oxidative stress-related damage.

Dhana found himself adopting the MIND diet while studying it. But, as he explains, brain resilience goes beyond food: Dhana also suggests getting at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical exercise every week, as well as focusing on cognitive activities such as reading books, going to museums, and playing puzzle games.

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