Study Finds Evidence That the MIND Diet May Protect Patients From Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

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by Kara Elam |

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Researchers at the Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston recently published results from an observational study that showed when a patient’s dietary intake is modified it could significantly lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The study entitled, “MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease,” was published in the online February 11th edition of Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Dr. Martha Clare Morris, ScD, Professor Director, Section of Nutrition & Nutritional Epidemiology, pomegranates and alzheimer'sAssistant Provost for Community Research, Co-Director, Rush Translational Sciences Consortium, Rush University, lead study author, and her colleagues developed the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet. MIND is a mix of two other dietary modification plans that have previously been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, heart attack, and stroke: Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets.

The researchers describe the MIND diet as emphasizing natural plant-based foods, specifically promoting an increase in the consumption of berries and green leafy vegetables; with limited intakes of animal-based and high saturated fat foods.  The diet also does not specify a need for high fruit (other than berries), potato, or dairy consumption.

The MIND diet has a maximum score of 15 and includes:

  • 10 brain healthy food groups:
    • green leafy vegetables
    • other vegetables
    • nuts
    • berries
    • beans
    • whole grains
    • fish
    • poultry
    • olive oil
    • wine
  • 5 unhealthy brain food groups:
    • red meats
    • butter and stick margarine
    • cheese
    • pastries and sweets
    • fried/fast food

The observed study population was part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP), an ongoing study of volunteers living in retirement communities and senior public housing units throughout Chicago. MAP began in 1997 and it includes annual neurological examinations of participants. For this study, 923 of the MAP participants completed dietary questionnaires, had at least two neuropsychological assessments, were clinically determined not to have AD at the baseline, and completed food frequency logs from 2004 to February 2013, in which MIND diet scores were obtained.

The study investigators were looking for the following dietary components in participants’ food logs:

  • At least three servings of whole grains a day
  • A salad and one other vegetable a day
  • A glass of wine a day
  • A serving of nuts a day
  • Beans every other day
  • Poultry and berries at least twice a week
  • Fish at least once a week

The study results showed that the MIND diet lowered the risk of AD by as much as 53 percent in participants who adhered to the diet rigorously, and by about 35 percent in those who followed it moderately well. Other results observed included:

  • 144 cases of AD developed over an average follow-up of 4.5 years in the sample of 923 MAP participants
  • The average time to AD diagnosis from the date that the diet was assessed was 3.8 years
  • The average MIND diet score for the AD sample was 7.4 (15 possible) and ranged from 2.5 to 12.5.
  • Participants with the lowest scores had lower education, were more likely to be obese, to have diabetes, and report fewer hours of physical activity and more depressive symptoms.

In a press release about the study’s findings, Dr. Morris, stated “One of the more exciting things about this is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD. I think that will motivate people.”

This study adds to the body of knowledge that provides evidence to the nutritional components that may play a role in reducing or delaying a patient’s risk of developing AD. Further confirmatory studies should be pursued to gain more understanding of the correlation between diet modification and AD prevention.