Is a Better Diet better for Your Brain?

There is always debate about which diet to follow and what is it good for. Increasing evidence shows that diets better for preventing heart disease also reduce the rate of decline in memory and thinking abilities. Another study now supports this association (though these are not proof, just suggestions).

Researchers looked at 31,456 people aged 55 years and older with a previously of one or more of heart disease, stroke, blocked leg arteries or high-risk diabetes mellitus who participated in two clinical trials of blood pressure lowering medications.

They measured the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) which is a reasonable but not a very sensitive test for decline in thinking and compared the score over 5 years.

They compared these results with the quality of the diet rated for these items:

  • Fruits (servings/day) 0 to 4
  • Vegetables (servings/day) 0 to 5
  • Nuts and soy protein (servings/day) 0 to 1
  • Ratio of fish/(meat+eggs) 0 to 4
  • Whole grain (servings/day) 0 to ≥3
  • Fried foods (servings/day) ≥4 to ≤0.5
  • Alcohol:
    – Men (servings/day) 0 to >3.5
    – Women (servings/day) 0 to >2.5

The survey did not focus on aspects of the mediterranean diet, which have separately been shown to be beneficial, rather an overall diet quality rating.

After the 5 years of watching these patients, a decline in the MMSE score (and thinking) occurred in 16.8% of participants. Investigators then adjust the results to take away the effects of other known risks (blood pressure, history of stroke, diabetes. What that left was that the highest 20% of the eating scale (modified Alternative Healthy Eating Index) was associated with a lower risk for thinking decline (as measured by the MMSE) compared with the least healthy diet of around 24% (between 14-34%).

In other words, those with the best diet were around a quarter less likely to develop thinking decline than those with the worst.

However, once you remove the bottom 20% of the worst diet, the numbers even out fairly quickly, so that the top 80% are essentially the same (between 4-9% worse off compared to the top and not in order any more).

In other words, the good news is that whilst the worst diet is clearly bad (according to these results), but even a slightly improved diet negates that problem.

Link to article here.

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