For Better Brain Health, MIND Your Eating Pattern

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Aging gracefully is more than coloring your hair or using expensive skin cream. Protecting your body and brain are key to longevity. To protect your brain from developing abnormal clumps of proteins that lead to dementia, look at what’s on your plate.

Rush University Medical Center scientists have discovered that older adults may benefit from a nutritious diet known as the MIND diet. This type of eating pattern helps prevent amyloid plaques and tangles, which are protein deposits that develop between nerve cells and impact thinking and problem-solving skills.

The MIND diet was created by the late Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a Rush nutritional epidemiologist and her colleagues. MIND is a combo platter of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. According to past research, the MIND diet may cut an individual’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.

New research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on Sept. 14th, 2021, indicates that people who follow MIND diet moderately as they age can sidestep some cognition problems

"Some people have enough plaques and tangles in their brains to have a postmortem diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, but they do not develop clinical dementia in their lifetime," said Klodian Dhana, MD, PhD, lead author of the paper and an assistant professor in the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College .

According to Dr. Dhana, despite the build up of plaques in the brain, some individuals have the ability to keep cognitive function. The study suggests that the MIIND diet is linked with better cognitive functions despite brain pathologies related to Alzheimer’s disease. 

Scientists evaluated the associations of diet from the beginning of the study until death on brain pathologies and cognitive functioning in older adult subjects in the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s ongoing Memory and Aging Project. The project started in 1997 and includes individuals living in the greater Chicago area. Subjects were primarily Caucasian without known dementia and all had agreed to undergo yearly clinical evaluations while alive and brain autopsies after they died.

The study included 569 participants that were asked to do annual evaluations and cognitive tests to see if they developed thinking or memory problems. An annual food frequency questionnaire was provided starting in 2004 to inquire about 144 food items they’d eaten in the past year. 

A MIND diet score was given by the researchers using the answers to the questionnaire based on how often the subjects ate certain foods. There are 15 components to the MIND diet including 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and five unhealthy groups such as red meat, butter, stick margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried and fast food.

A MIND diet score was calculated based on the frequency of healthy or unhealthy foods consumed (reported by each participant) during the study period. An average MIND diet score was used from the beginning of the study until a participant died (to reduce measurement error). Accuracy of the study findings were confirmed using seven sensitivity measures. 

"We found that a higher MIND diet score was associated with better memory and thinking skills independently of Alzheimer's disease pathology and other common age-related brain pathologies. The diet seemed to have a protective capacity and may contribute to cognitive resilience in the elderly." Dhana said.

Alterations in diet can affect risk of dementia and cognitive functioning for better or worse, according to Dhana. Simple lifestyle and diet changes may aid in slowing cognitive decline that occurs with aging.

Want to learn more about the MIND diet and explore ways to help your audience learn about it too? Don't miss the post Going Inside the MIND Diet.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

Journal Reference:

  1. Klodian Dhana, Bryan D. James, Puja Agarwal, Neelum T. Aggarwal, Laurel J. Cherian, Sue E. Leurgans, Lisa L. Barnes, David A. Bennett, Julie A. Schneider. MIND Diet, Common Brain Pathologies, and Cognition in Community-Dwelling Older AdultsJournal of Alzheimer's Disease, 2021; 83 (2): 683 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-210107
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