Moderate adherence to a new diet, fittingly known by the acronym MIND, could significantly lower a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a paper published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
Nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, ScD, and colleagues at Rush University in Chicago developed the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet. Their study of 923 participants, aged 58–98, found that the MIND diet lowered AD risk by as much as 53% in those who rigorously adhered to the plan, and by about 35% in those who followed it moderately well.
“One of the more exciting things about this is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD,” said Morris, a Rush University professor, assistant provost for community research, and director of nutrition and nutritional epidemiology. “I think that will motivate people.”
Morris and her colleagues developed the MIND diet based on information that has accrued from years’ worth of past research about what foods and nutrients have good, and bad, effects on brain functioning over time. This is the first study to relate this diet to Alzheimer’s disease.
The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions like hypertension, heart attack and stroke. Some researchers have found that the two older diets protect against dementia as well.
In the latest study, the MIND diet was compared with the two other diets. People with high adherence to the DASH and Mediterranean diets also had reductions in AD—39% with the DASH diet and 54% with the Mediterranean diet—but got negligible benefits from moderate adherence to either of these diets.
Morris points out that the MIND diet is easier to follow than the Mediterranean diet, which calls for daily consumption of fish and three to four daily servings of fruits and of vegetables.
The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups”—green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. The five “unhealthy” groups identified in the diet are red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food. The regime includes at least three daily servings of whole grains, leafy greens six or more days a week and at least one other vegetable per day—along with a glass of wine. It also involves snacking most days on nuts and eating beans every other day or so, poultry and berries at least twice a week, and fish once a week or more. Dieters must limit eating the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three), to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s, according to the study.
Berries are the only fruit specifically included in the MIND diet. “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” Morris said, and strawberries have also performed well in past studies of food’s effect on cognitive function.
Morris said, “We devised a diet and it worked in this Chicago study. The results need to be confirmed by other investigators in different populations and also through randomized trials.” That is the best way to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the MIND diet and reductions in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, she said.