MIND Diet Might Half Your Alzheimer’s Risk
The MIND diet has an apt acronym, because following it is associated with a significantly reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
According to "MIND Diet Associated with Reduced Incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease," just published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, the diet’s most stringent adherents had a 53% reduced risk for getting the disease. This is the very first study to relate the diet to Alzheimer’s.
How Researchers Developed the Diet
Martha Clare Morris, PhD, the Director of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology at Rush University, and her colleagues developed the MIND diet (in researcher parlance: Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) from previous study findings about foods and nutrients appearing to effect brain functioning.Researchers discovered 10 brain-healthy food groups and 5 brain-unhealthy ones.Their exploration unearthed what appear to be 10 "brain-healthy food groups," identified as green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine; and five "unhealthy" groups, named as red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.
Here’s the MIND Diet in a Nutshell
- 3 or more servings of whole grains, a salad, one other vegetable, and a glass of wine daily
- Beans every other day or so
- Poultry and berries at least twice a week
- Nuts as snacks most days.
- Fish at least once a week
Essentially, MIND is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. But it’s much easier to follow than the Mediterranean one, which requires three to four daily servings of each of fruits and vegetables, plus daily fish consumption.
Behind the Scenes of the Study
Over an approximately 10-year period, from 2004 to 2013, 923 volunteer residents of Chicago-area retirement communities and senior public housing complexes completed a food-frequency questionnaire. The researchers used a point system to identify how closely they followed the MIND diet: volunteers got points both when they ate "brain-healthy foods" and when they avoided the "unhealthy" ones. The investigators then categorized all participants into tertiles (a tertile meaning one of three equal groups) based upon high, middle, and low adherence to the MIND diet.
Eventually, 144 of the residents developed Alzheimer’s Disease. The participants who adhered to the diet rigorously (defined here by the researchers as those in the top tertile of scores) had a 53% reduced Alzheimer’s risk compared to those who followed the diet the least (the lowest tertile of scores). And those who followed the MIND diet moderately well (defined as the middle tertile of scores) had a 35% reduced risk of getting the disease.
"One of the more exciting things about this [study] is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD," Morris said.People who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a 35% reduced risk for Alzheimer’s.HonestHealthNews (HHN) asked Morris whether vegetarian, vegan, and pescetarian, and other diets were also considered as factors in the analysis. "We did not analyze the individual components," Morris replied. "Other studies have examined and found protective relations against cognitive decline and dementia for vegetables (particularly green leafy), berries, and fish… Blueberries are rich sources of flavonoids which a limited number of studies have found to slow cognitive decline. There is no data to show that poultry consumption is individually protective. It is a source of low-fat protein and is also high in some B-vitamins that have been related to brain health."
Did the Mediterranean Diet Also Reduce Risk?
The study did compare the MIND diet with the Mediterranean and DASH diets. And, notably, both of these diets also were associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s—54% with the Mediterranean diet and 39% percent with DASH.
But, unlike the MIND diet results, moderate adherence to either diet provided negligible benefits. Morris didn’t seem surprised by this finding. She told HonestHealthNews: "The Mediterranean diet is a cultural diet. The DASH diet was designed to protect against hypertension. Neither of these diets are specific to the foods and nutrients that have been shown to protect the brain. The MIND diet highlights these foods and nutrients that are brain protective."Moderate adherence to the Mediterranean diet provided negligible benefits.
Caveats & Conclusions
It’s important to realize that this study does not in fact measure the association between full adherence to the MIND or other diets and onset of Alzheimer’s. The researchers didn’t use a checklist of adherence to the diet; they calculated results on a gradient of relative adherence.
Also, because the MIND study was observational—meaning that researchers recorded but did not try to influence the volunteers' behavior—the results do not tell us that stricter MIND diet adherence by the top third of the volunteers was responsible for a 53% reduction in their getting Alzheimer’s disease. There was no control group that changed their diets and nothing else; control groups are extraordinarily difficult to create when it comes to human behavior around eating. As Morris told HHN: "The MIND diet needs to be replicated in other studies, including diet intervention trials, to be confident that the diet has a causal relation to dementia prevention."by