A December 2021 study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, has found that following a specific diet can lower the risk of dementia.
This study comes from a research group in Greece that was diving deeper into the known link between inflammation and neurocognitive diseases.
“We know diet plays a major role in our overall health, whether it is heart health or brain health or anything in between. This study adds to the growing body of evidence that what we choose to eat can affect our risk for disease, and, in this case, the risk of dementia,” Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian nutritionist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline.
The Body And Brain Connection
Dr. Elizabeth Klingbeil, a registered dietitian and assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition & Dietetics at Johnson & Wales University-Providence, noted to Healthline that nutrient deficiencies don’t just have the potential to impair cognition. She claimed they can also lead to impaired thinking, fatigue, and depression.
“The role of inflammation in neurocognitive diseases—such as dementia—has been well-established. Thereby, decreasing the amount of systemic inflammation in the body may reduce the risk of development or severity of these diseases.”
In other words, less inflammation in the body means less inflammation in the brain.
How An Anti-Inflammatory Diet Is Key
An anti-inflammatory diet is one that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, and beans along with tea or coffee. During the three-year study time period, researchers found that people who followed this diet were less likely to develop dementia later on.
Fruits, veggies, and beans are fantastic sources of vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols that can prevent inflammation in the body and protect cells from damage. Decreasing inflammation in the body—and therefore the brain—has the potential to lower the risk of developing neurocognitive diseases.
“All of these nutrients and compounds help to reduce the chronic low-grade inflammation in the body, thus why a diet rich in these foods is deemed ‘anti-inflammatory,’” Weinandy said.
Klingbeil added all of these anti-inflammatory foods are great sources of fiber and antioxidants. Fiber prevents chronic, low-grade inflammation, while antioxidants prevent cell damage. She also warns that highly-processed foods—like fast foods, saturated fats, and sugary beverages—increase inflammation in the body.
Klingbeil says it’s best to limit saturated fats, added sugars, and excess sodium in your diet while recommending more fiber and antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies.
How Was The Study Conducted?
During the three-year study period in Greece, the researchers regularly surveyed 1,059 people about their diet. They split the participants up into three groups and kept track of the types of food each person ate. Then, the researchers gave each participant a score based on how inflammatory their particular diet was.
Participants who regularly stuck to an anti-inflammatory diet received a dietary inflammatory score of -1.76 and lower. This group, on average, consumed 20 servings of fruit, 19 servings of vegetables, four servings of beans/legumes, and 11 servings of coffee or tea per week.
In the more inflammatory diet group, those participants ate about nine servings of fruit, 10 servings of veggies, two servings of beans/legumes, and nine servings of coffee or tea each week. That resulted in a dietary inflammatory score of 0.21 or above.
Throughout the course of the study, 62 people—or six percent of participants—developed dementia. Those people followed a more inflammatory diet, with an average dietary inflammatory score of -0.06.
The Study Findings
As they combed through the data, the researchers found that each one-point increase in the dietary inflammatory score was associated with a 21% increased risk of developing dementia.
The data also showed that participants with the highest dietary inflammatory scores were three times more likely to develop a neurocognitive disease like dementia compared to participants with the lowest scores.
The findings from this new study are so clear that they could help inform future dietary recommendations in relation to the protection of cognitive health.
The research in the new study has found that a diet rich in fruits, veggies, beans/legumes, and tea or coffee can protect the brain and reduce the risk of dementia. These foods are rich in beneficial vitamins and minerals, can prevent cell damage, and creates less inflammation compared to fatty and sugary foods.
Weinandy clarified that an anti-inflammatory diet is extremely beneficial when it comes to lowering the risk of dementia and other neurocognitive diseases. But, it can’t protect cognitive health all on its own.
“For optimal health, we want to focus on an overall approach for brain health that includes a healthy diet, regular activity, stress reduction, and adequate sleep,” Weinandy said.