Eating heart-healthy foods also helps reduce your risk of dementia – The Washington Post

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Doing puzzles, playing games to boost memory, taking classes, and reading are activities we often turn to to keep our brains sharp. But research shows that what you eat, how often you exercise, and the type of exercise you do can help reduce your risk of dementia to a greater extent than previously thought.

Although more studies are needed, “there is a lot of evidence to suggest that exercise and diet are good for the brain and can prevent or help slow” cognitive changes, says Jeffrey Burns, co-director of the Center for Brain Research. Alzheimer’s Disease from the University of Kansas. Fairway.

And adopting a healthy lifestyle can have beneficial effects on the brain, whatever your age.

If you’re already eating in a way that protects your heart—lots of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and little saturated fat, sodium, and ultra-processed “junk food”—here’s good news: You’re also protecting your brain. . A healthy cardiovascular system keeps blood vessels open, allowing good blood flow to the brain and reducing the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and dementia.

Research suggests that two specific dietary approaches – the Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet (the Mediterranean DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay, essentially a combination of two heart-healthy diets) – could help prevent cognitive decline. Both diets rely on the consumption of primarily plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts), olive oil, fish and poultry. The main difference between the two is that the MIND diet emphasizes specific fruits and vegetables, such as berries and leafy greens.

Studies show that people who closely follow either diet have a reduced risk of dementia compared to those who don’t. For example, people eating a Mediterranean style had a 23 percent lower risk of dementia in a nine-year study of more than 60,000 men and women published this year in BMC Medicine.

Original research on the MIND diet, published in 2015 by researchers at Rush University in Chicago and still ongoing, found that older adults who adhered the most to the diet had a 53% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s. Even those who followed the MIND diet moderately well saw a 35 percent reduced risk.

“Just focusing on one food won’t magically improve cognitive functioning,” says Puja Agarwal, assistant professor at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “We found that it’s a combination of foods that are more associated with overall brain health.” However, in the context of a healthy diet, regularly including the following items on your plate can give your brain extra protection.

Healthy fats: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods such as avocados, olives, nuts, seeds and olive oil protect against heart disease and stroke, two risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. . Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found in seafood, as well as nuts, chia and flax seeds, may slow brain aging.

“Some studies show that consuming omega-3 fatty acids [in food] can help reduce levels of beta-amyloid, a protein that forms harmful clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Lauren J. Gleason, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.

Berries: All berries contain flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidant compounds. A large 2021 study, published in Neurology, found that people who consumed the most flavonoids were 19% less likely to self-report a decline in cognitive function than those who consumed fewer flavonoid-rich foods. Berries, in particular, appear to protect brain cells from harmful oxidative stress and help boost memory, says Gleason. (Tea and dark chocolate also contain flavonoids.)

Leafy vegetables: “Green leafy vegetables are powerhouse, nutrient-dense foods,” says Agarwal. “They contain carotenoids, vitamin K and flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.” Agarwal led a recent study on the MIND diet that found that people who ate seven or more servings of leafy greens (half a cup cooked or 1 cup raw) per week had similar levels of amyloid plaque to people 19 years younger.

Beans: Legumes are rich in fiber. Per cup (cooked), lentils contain 16 grams, chickpeas about 13 grams, and kidney beans 11 grams. (The daily value is 28 grams.) A 2022 study of older adults in the American Journal of Medicine found that as fiber intake increased, the results of a brain function test measuring information processing, attention and memory also increased. (Fruit, vegetables, and whole grains are other good sources of fiber.) “Adequate fiber intake also helps you maintain a healthy weight, balance blood sugar, and improve heart health, all linked to cognitive health,” says Gleason.

Fiber may help the brain in unusual ways. It supports a healthy microbiome, the collection of good bacteria that lives in your digestive system. Having enough of these good bacteria is crucial because their activity creates short-chain fatty acids that communicate with the rest of the body, including the brain. Some data shows that people with Alzheimer’s disease have a different microbiological makeup than those without it, Burns says. Researchers are studying whether the balance of bacteria in the gut is a cause or a consequence of the disease. If this is a cause, then changing your microbiome may be beneficial.

Eggs: Yolks are rich in choline, an important nutrient for memory and other brain functions. In a 2019 study of nearly 500 men, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, each intake of 50 milligrams per day of a type of choline called phosphatidylcholine was associated with a 10% decrease in the risk of dementia. Eggs were the main source of phosphatidylcholine in men’s diets. One large egg contains 168 mg of choline, about 70% of which is phosphatidylcholine.

Foods bad for the brain

You also want to make sure you limit foods that harm cognitive health. One way to do this is to reduce the consumption of highly processed foods. These are foods that contain ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, emulsifiers, colors, flavors and preservatives, or are high in added sugars or sodium. Examples of this include soda, packaged bread and baked goods, sugary cereals, and processed meats.

Getting just 20 percent of calories from highly processed foods was linked to a 28 percent faster rate of cognitive decline than eating less. This is according to an eight-year study of more than 10,000 men and women aged 35 to 74, published in 2023 in JAMA Neurology.

Another study, published in the journal Neurology, found that people 55 and older who ate a highly processed diet were about 25% more likely to develop dementia than those who ate few of these foods.

But there was also good news: Those who reduced their intake of highly processed foods by 10% over the 10-year study were 19% less likely to suffer from dementia.

Regular physical activity can improve brain health in many ways, including reducing risk factors for dementia, such as diabetes and heart disease. A 2023 analysis of 21 studies, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, concluded that exercise (aerobic and strength training) improved cognitive function in older adults, regardless of their current cognitive status. Researchers believe physical activity helps by encouraging the growth of new neurons and blood vessels in the brain, fighting inflammation, and improving plasticity, the brain’s ability to change and adapt.

The World Health Organization recommends doing 150 to 300 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling or swimming, per week and at least two strength training sessions.

“Activities that involve learning a specific sequence of movements may be particularly beneficial in slowing the progression to dementia in someone with mild cognitive impairment,” says Gleason. A small study of older adults with the disease, published in 2020 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that those who performed choreographed aerobic dances (one hour twice a week for 12 weeks) improved verbal recognition memory more. than those who practiced physiotherapy exercises. Activities such as dancing and tai chi also challenge balance, a skill that declines with aging and the onset of dementia.

Copyright 2023, Consumer Reports Inc.

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