Heart-healthy diet protects brain function

Data published in the Journal of Neurology found that a heart-healthy diet (rich in fruits and vegetables, moderate in nuts, fish and alcohol and low in meat and full-fat dairy) in early adulthood was linked to better brain function in later adulthood.

Researchers set out to find a link between a heart-healthy diet and protecting brain function and cognition. “Cognitive impairment is associated with increased health risks over time such as dementia, disability, and even mortality.” Claire T. McEvoy, PhD, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, and colleagues wrote.

“Diet is a modifiable lifelong exposure, yet few studies have examined whether dietary factors in adulthood influence the risk of cognitive impairment,” they added.

Since diets can be modified based on health risks, eating specific foods and avoiding others may offer a targeted approach to help people protect brain function through food choices.

“Our findings indicate that maintaining good dietary practices throughout adulthood can help to preserve brain health at midlife,” McEvoy said in a press release.

“A total of 2,621 patients (45% black; 57% women; mean age at baseline, 25 years) were included in the study and followed for 30 years. Participants’ dietary patterns were assessed at baseline, year 7 and year 20 and cognitive function was evaluated at years 25 and 30.”

Three heart healthy diets were observed, the Mediterranean, the DASH diet and the APDQS diet. Depending on how closely they followed their diets, participants were given a score of adherence over time.

“The researchers defined the Mediterranean diet as high intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy unsaturated fats, nuts, legumes and fish and low intake of red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy.

The DASH diet was defined as high intake of grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, legumes and nuts and low intake of meat, fish, poultry, total fat, saturated fat, sweets and sodium.

The APDQS diet was defined as high intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy, fish and moderate alcohol and low intake of fried foods, salty snacks, sweets, high-fat dairy and sugar-sweetened soft drinks.”

The DASH diet proved to have no change in cognitive behavior over time. However, the Mediterranean and APDQs diets showed a decreased decline in cognitive health as the participants aged.

The odds for poor thinking skills were 46% less for participants who showed high adherence to the Mediterranean diet and 52% less for participants that stuck with the APDQS  diet.

Researchers mentioned that other lifestyle choices that may affect cognitive behavior were considered during the study, such as smoking and physical activity.

McEvoy believes the DASH diet’s effect on cognitive behavior may have been decreased due to the lack of limit for alcohol consumption.

Although the ideal diet for supporting brain health is still not apparent, switching to a heart-healthy diet may help us protect memory and brain function as we get older.

To learn more: Heart-healthy diets associated with better cognitive function – Healio

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