July 14, 2009
Heart Healthy DASH Diet Cuts Alzheimers Risk

What's good for your heart is good for your brain too.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is often recommended by physicians to people with high blood pressure or pre-hypertension. The DASH diet eating plan has been proven to lower blood pressure in studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. High blood pressure is considered a risk factor for Alzheimer's and dementia.

Heidi Wengreen, RD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Nutrition at Utah State University, and colleagues examined associations between how closely people adhered to the DASH diet and risk of cognitive decline and dementia among older participants in the Cache County Study on Memory, Health and Aging.

In 1995, 3,831 study participants 65 years of age or older completed a survey that included a food frequency questionnaire and cognitive assessment. Cognitive function was checked again during four assessments over 11 years using the Modified Mini-Mental State examination (3MS), which is graded on a 100 point scale. A DASH diet adherence score was created based on consumption levels of nine food-group/nutrient components -- fruit, vegetables, nut/legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy, sodium, sweets, non-fish meat, and fish. Participants were ranked by DASH score into five groups, or quintiles.

The researchers found that higher DASH scores were associated with higher scores for cognitive functioning at the beginning of the study and over time. Those in the highest quintile scored 1.42 points higher at baseline and 1.81 points higher after 11 years on the 3MS than did those in the lowest quintile of the DASH score (p-values < 0.001).

Of course this could result from smarter people choosing to eat a healthier diet. They start out smarter and they continue to be smarter. But a poor cardiovascular system is going to mess up your brain. Other research finds that reduced blood flow precedes Alzheimer's.

Eat your vegetables.

They also found that four of the nine food-group/nutrient components used to create the DASH score were independently associated with 3MS scores -- vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, nut/legumes. The scientists created a diet adherence score based on just these four components which they then tested for association with changes in cognitive abilities on the 3MS. Those in the highest quintile scored 1.72 points higher at baseline and 3.73 points higher after 11 years than did those in the lowest quintile of the four-component score (p-values < 0.001).

Previous research finds that vegetable and fruit juice consumption are correlated with a large reduction in Alzheimer's risk. Yet another study found the Mediterranean Diet is associated with lowered Alzheimer's risk.

Eat fruit, nuts, vegetables, beans. Cut back on meats. Doing this delivers many benefits. A delay in brain decay is likely one of them.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 July 14 11:05 PM  Aging Diet Brain Studies

Batman said at July 15, 2009 5:14 AM:

Hypertension has recently been dealt a major blow by medical science (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(09)60566-3/abstract). Would be great if this work means a reduction in Alzheimer's risk as well.

JohnRDC said at July 15, 2009 11:30 AM:

Come on, now, folks. A new miraculous diet every few years. They can't all be right. And, hey, we can't all live on a small island in the Mediterranean. This was the locus of the Keys olive oil craze.

Cut down on white flour, sugars of all kinds, high fructose corn syrup. You can eat plenty of meat, chicken and fish, but no potatoes.

OneDay said at September 7, 2009 9:00 AM:

I just read "The China Study" by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II. It is billed as "The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted". The basic conclusions, with lots of data to back them up, is that meat proteins, including those found in eggs and milk products, causes the diseases prevalent in western societies. These diseases are not limited to heart disease, diabetes, many cancers and obesity.

I'd really appeciate a few other opinions on the book if possible. Anybody willing to take a look?

A change in diet to veganism would be extremely drastic for me and my family. However, it looks like it would probably have an enormous payoff in terms of quality of life and disease reduction. This is a dietary change that I think that I will have to undertake, although certainly not with great expectation of enjoying the culinary aspects.

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