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Can Your Diet Lower your Risk of Alzheimer’s?

Can Your Diet Lower your Risk of Alzheimer’s?
By James A. Higgins, DO
Family Medicine, Primary PartnerCare Physicians, PLLC
Date:  Dec 01, 2023
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A recent study conducted by Rush University in Chicago and funded by the National Institutes of Health showed at postmortem that people who ate 7 or more servings of green leafy vegetables (not just spinach!) per week has less Alzheimer’s pathology than those who ate only 1-2 servings per week. In fact, those who ate 7+ servings of green leafy vegetables had brains that looked like brains 19 years younger! The study examined 581 autopsied participants and looked at adherence to the Mediterranean Diet and the MIND Diet. Both diets are rich in Phyto- nutrients and bioactive compounds which have antioxidant properties. The Mediterranean Diet recommends vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil and 3 or more servings of fish per week. The MIND diet prioritizes green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, collard greens and other vegetables, olive oil, berries and one or more servings of fish per week. The prospective study of older adults included annual clinical evaluations and agreed to donation of their brains at death. The mean age of the study participants was 84 when they completed their first dietary assessment and 91 at death. Approximately 73% of the participants were women and 38.5% had a diagnosis of clinical dementia (meaning the dementia was diagnosed by symptoms). Upon death, 66% of the brains had a pathologic diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Although the study was limited due to the limits in participation and race diversity, it does offer an interesting glimpse of the role of diet on our brain health. Both the Mediterranean Diet and the MIND diet were scored for adherence to the diets (consumption of “good” foods and avoidance of “bad” foods.) When statistically controlling for age at death, sex, education, and total calories, the higher the adherence to the diet, the lower the Alzheimer’s findings at autopsy. Specifically, the autopsies showed fewer amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles for the participants that ate 7 or more servings of green leafy vegetables and stayed from fried foods. These findings persisted when the data was further adjusted for physical activity, smoking and vascular disease and when participants with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or dementia were excluded. What does this mean for all of us who are aging? Simply put, eat your vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, consume more fish and fresh fruit and shy away from fried foods. Food matters and for those of us in medicine, we understand the importance of diet for our overall health and well-being. Iti is crucial to work closely with your primary care physician to create a wellness and dietary program that works for you and maximizes those benefits it can afford you.