Dietary Approaches to Reduce the Risk of Dementia

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Despite what people may believe, dementia is not a normal part of aging. That said, dementia impacts 5.5 million older adults annually, and the CDC estimates that by 2060, 14 million people will be impacted by dementia.

So what do we do about it? The good news is that dementia can be at least partially prevented by what’s on your plate.

A new study from Greek researchers indicates that consuming an anti-inflammatory diet (which includes coffee, tea, fruits, and vegetables including beans and lentils) could reduce the risk of getting dementia by a third. 

Each of these foods have one thing in common -- they’re all derived from plants. These foods aid in reducing age-related inflammation in the body, which is linked with the risk of dementia. 

The study -- conducted in over 1,000 older adults -- rated their diets for anti-inflammatory foods, then followed them for over three years. Subjects who consumed the most anti-inflammatory foods ate roughly 20 pieces of fruit, 19 servings of vegetables, 4 servings of beans and 11 cups of coffee or tea in an average week. Individuals consuming the least inflammatory foods were three times more likely to develop dementia compared to this group.

Senior study author Dr. Niolaos Scameas (from Kapodistrian University of Athens Greece) asserts, “These findings suggest that people could protect their brains by eating more healthily.” He advises people to include more anti-inflammatory foods -- including fruits and vegetables -- and reduce high-calorie, inflammatory choices.

Scameas does note that this study was observational. A clinical trial would provide more definitive proof.

Let's look more closely at the methodology of this study. Questionnaires about the diets of individuals aged 65 and up were filled out and evaluated for the study, which was published in Neurology. 

Questions were asked about fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish, desserts, alcohol ,and legumes including beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils.

In the 1059 study subjects, 60% (62 individuals) developed dementia. To find who was more susceptible to dementia, subjects were divided into three groups according to their answers on the food questionnaire. 

They were separated into groups by eating pattern:* those with the most anti-inflammatory diet, those with a moderate diet, and the last third with the least anti-inflammatory diet.

Individuals with the lowest intake of anti-inflammatory foods were three times more likely to get dementia. In an average week, these individuals only consumed 9 pieces of fruit, 10 servings of vegetables, 2 legume servings, and 9 cups of coffee or tea. 

Confounding factors such as age, sex and education levels were taken into consideration too. Women are at higher risk for dementia and those with less education are as well. Despite accounting for these factors, for every one-point increase in the inflammatory score of a person’s diet, a 21% increase in the risk of dementia was observed. 

Other research has shown that a more inflammatory diet is linked with worse memory and cognitive decline even at a younger age. 

Want to help your clients make the most of the study's results? Don't miss the post Tips for Building an Anti-Inflammatory Eating Pattern!

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


Charisis S, Ntanasi E, Yannakoulia M, Anastasiou CA, Kosmidis MH, Dardiotis E, Gargalionis AN, Patas K, Chatzipanagiotou S, Mourtzinos I, Tzima K, Hadjigeorgiou G, Sakka P, Kapogiannis D, Scarmeas N. Diet Inflammatory Index and Dementia Incidence: A Population-Based Study. Neurology. 2021 Nov 10:10.1212/WNL.0000000000012973. 

* Scores were found based on a person’s nutrient intake using the questionnaire. These ranged from negative 8.87 for the most anti-inflammatory to 7.98 for the lowest. Elevated scores suggested a worse diet and results indicated people who developed dementia had a score that was .64 points above those who did not. 

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