Want To Prevent Cognitive Decline? Eat This Kind Of Diet, Research Suggests
The food we eat has a tremendous impact on our health—both today and in the years to come. According to new research published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, in fact, adopting a particular diet in midlife could help you prevent cognitive decline down the road. Here's what they found.
Studying the connection between diet in midlife and cognitive decline later on
For this study, researchers wanted to see if there was a connection between eating a particular diet in midlife and cognitive decline later on. To find out, they analyzed 30 years of data from over 5,000 women enrolled in the NYU Women's Health Study.
Data collection began between 1985 and 1991, when the average age of the participants was 49. They filled out questionnaires on their diets over the years, as well as reported any cognitive complaints. Those complaints were assessed using standard questions that indicate cognitive impairment and dementia.
By the end of the study, 33% of the participants reported having more than one of six standard cognitive complaints. But the women who had been adhering closely to the DASH diet, on the other hand, were less likely to have those complaints (17% less likely, to be exact.)
In case you've never heard of it, DASH stands for "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension" and is a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, while limiting cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and saturated fat. As the name suggests, it's designed to promote heart health, which has long been understood to be a risk factor for cognitive decline.
As the study's senior author, Yu Chen, Ph.D., MPH, explains in a news release, "Subjective complaints about daily cognitive performance are early predictors of more serious neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's," adding, "With more than 30 years follow-up, we found that the stronger the adherence to a DASH diet in midlife, the less likely women are to report cognitive issues much later in life."
What to do about it
Whether you want to prevent cognitive decline, mind your heart health, or both, this research suggests the DASH diet might just help you do so.
As lead study author Yixiao Song notes, "Our data suggest that it is important to start a healthy diet in midlife to prevent cognitive impairment in older age," with co-author Fen Wu, Ph.D., adding, "Following the DASH diet may not only prevent high blood pressure but also cognitive issues."
The good news is, the DASH diet is a fairly straightforward diet, prioritizing whole, nutrient-dense foods and avoiding common diet culprits like sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. And the sooner you can start, the better.
There's actually also a diet that combines the DASH diet with the Mediterranean diet (which is also known for its health benefits) called the MIND diet, or Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Just like the DASH diet, the MIND diet has been found to be associated with better cognitive performance, and in some studies, to prevent cognitive decline1.
Protecting cognitive performance as we age is vital for living well longer, and you're never too old–or too young—to start taking those measures. Based on these findings, you can start with the food on your plate.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.