Dementia: The ‘single most important’ food to reduce your risk of brain decline

Dr Hilary issues warning about missed dementia diagnoses

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There are around 10 million new cases of dementia – a general term for clusters of symptoms associated with brain decline – every year. The term describes symptoms associated with progressive brain decline, such as memory loss and confusion. The cognitive impairments start off mild at first but become highly destructive in the later stages. Fortunately, progress has been made in understanding how to reduce the risk of developing dementia in later life. 

A number of studies have united around the benefits of adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet to stave off brain decline.

The Mediterranean diet varies by country and region, so it has a range of definitions.

But in general, it’s high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.

Most studies have focused on the aggregate benefits of the diet but one study drilled down into the specific components that help.

Harvard Health cited a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health that evaluated the lifestyles of over 7,750 participants followed for five to 10 years.

Participants filled out questionnaires to determine their eating habits, and had cognitive tests of memory, language, and attention administered over the phone.

They used these data to determine the dietary factors most important in lowering your risk of cognitive impairment, as well as the dietary factors most important in lowering your risk of cognitive decline.

Fish was the “single most important dietary factor” in lowering the risk of cognitive impairment, Harvard Health reports.

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Vegetables were second best, and all other foods showed smaller, insignificant effects.

Moreover, of all the foods evaluated, only fish was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline.

Eating fish lowered the risk of both cognitive impairment and cognitive decline.

Why Fish? “Fish is an important source of omega-3 fatty acids that are present in the membranes of the brain tissue,” notes an article published in the journal Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience.

In addition to eating heart-healthy foods, there are certain foods that may raise your risk of brain decline.

According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Five foods to avoid or limit to help your brain:

  • Fried or fast food (less than once a week)
  • Cheese (less than once a week)
  • Red meats (less than four times a week)
  • Pastries and sweets (less than five times a week)
  • Butter (less than one tablespoon a day).

“These recommendations are more specific than usual healthy eating guidance,” notes the BHF.

In addition to dietary improvements, you should keep physically active to ward off brain decline.

In fact, “of all the lifestyle changes that have been studied, taking regular physical exercise appears to be one of the best things that you can do to reduce your risk of getting dementia”, reports the Alzheimer’s Society (AS).

Several studies looking at the effect of aerobic exercise (exercise that increases your heart rate) in middle-aged or older adults have reported improvements in thinking and memory, and reduced rates of dementia.

In fact, as AS reports, combining the results of 11 studies shows that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 percent.

For Alzheimer’s disease specifically, the risk was reduced by 45 percent.

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