Study Shows MIND Diet May Slow Cognitive Decline Among Aging Adults

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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In a recent study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia a team of researchers found that eating a group of certain foods known as the MIND diet may slow cognitive decline among aging adults, even when the person is not at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Dementia is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the prevention of cognitive decline, the hallmark feature of dementia, is a public health priority. It is estimated that delaying disease onset by just 5 years will reduce its costs and prevalence by half. Diet interventions have the potential to become effective preventive strategies. Two randomized trials of the cultural-based Mediterranean diet and the blood pressure lowering DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Systolic Hypertension) showed protective effects on cognitive decline.

The new diet that is tailored to protect the brain is called Mediterranean-DASH diet intervention for neurodegenerative delay (MIND). This regime is styled after the Mediterranean and DASH diets but with modifications based on the most compelling findings within the diet-dementia field.

In this study, researchers from the Rush University Medical Center investigated the capacity of the MIND diet to change cognitive function, based on foods and nutrients shown to be protective for dementia among 960 participants of the Memory and Aging Project throughout an average period of 4.7 years.

The participants received an annual assessment of their cognitive capacity in five different areas – working memory, episodic memory, visuospatial ability, semantic memory and perceptual speed. Participants also completed an annual battery of questionnaires assessing their food intake. This allowed researchers to compare participants’ reported adherence to the MIND diet with changes in their cognitive abilities.

Results from the study titled “MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging”, showed that older adults who followed the MIND diet more rigorously were an equivalent of 7.5 years younger cognitively than those who did not follow this diet in such a strict manner.

“Everyone experiences decline with aging; and Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Therefore, prevention of cognitive decline, the defining feature of dementia, is now more important than ever,” Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a nutritional epidemiologist who helped develop the diet explained in a news release. “Delaying dementia’s onset by just five years can reduce the cost and prevalence by nearly half.” 

The MIND diet includes 15 dietary components, 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and five unhealthy groups – cheese, butter, red meat, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

The benefits of the diet are visible if a person eats at least three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine — snack most days on nuts, has beans every other day, eats poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week.

Results from the study showed this diet is more effective if the person limits the intake of unhealthy foods, particularly butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), sweets and pastries, whole fat cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three).

Berries are the only fruit specially included in the diet. “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” Dr. Morris said.

“The MIND diet modifies the Mediterranean and DASH diets to highlight the foods and nutrients shown through the scientific literature to be associated with dementia prevention.” Dr. Morris explained. “There is still a great deal of study we need to do in this area, and I expect that we’ll make further modifications as the science on diet and the brain advances.”