Study Suggests Diet May Affect Cognitive Abilities As We Age
Eating healthier may reduce cognitive decline and diminish the impact of an unhealthy diet on memory and thinking ability in older adults, suggests a new study published online by Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of The Alzheimer’s Association.
“Most people eat a combination of healthy and unhealthy foods, but we know little about how a mix of dietary patterns may impact cognitive function,” says study author Behnaz Shakersain, M.S., a Ph.D. candidate at the Aging Research Center within the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. “In our study population, we saw evidence that those who mostly consumed an unhealthy diet had approximately twice as much cognitive decline than those who consumed healthy and unhealthy diets together over time.”
The study analyzed the diets of 2,223 Swedish adults aged 60 or older and compared this information with their cognitive function over a six-year period. All individuals were dementia-free at the start of the study and underwent cognitive testing at the start and again after three and six years. Cognitive abilities were measured using the Mini-Mental State Examination, which is frequently used in research settings and by health care professionals. Participants were asked how often they consumed nearly 100 food and beverage items over the previous 12 months. Responses were used to group participants by how strongly they adhered to the “Western” diet or “prudent” diet.” Researchers defined the diets as follows:
- The “Western” diet was characterized by far more frequent consumption of red/processed meat, saturated/trans fat, refined grains, sugar, beer, and spirits.
- The “prudent” diet included more frequent consumption of vegetables, fruits, cooking/dressing oil, cereals and legumes, whole grains, rice/pasta, fish, low-fat dairy, poultry, and water.
People with the highest adherence to the “prudent” diet and the least adherence to the “Western” diet experienced the smallest decline in cognitive function over time. Individuals in the study with high adherence to the “Western” diet and low adherence to the “prudent” diet showed a statistically significant increase in cognitive decline over time when compared to the first group. Interestingly, participants with high adherence to both diets showed only about half the decline of those who maintained stricter adherence to the “prudent” diet. The study authors suggest that more frequent intake of the “prudent” diet may reduce the cognitive decline associated with more frequent intake of the “Western” diet.
The study, titled “Prudent diet may attenuate the adverse affects of Western diet on cognitive decline” is freely available on the Alzheimer’s & Dementia website at www.alzheimersanddementia.com.