This Diet Can Lessen the Risk of Cognitive Decline—Even If You're Already Experiencing Symptoms

New research has promising findings about how food choices can impact brain health.

There are a slew of additional health considerations that come up with age. One of the more notable ones is cognitive decline. While we all forget things once in a while, cognitive decline includes more than just temporary memory lapses. Sneaky symptoms of cognitive decline can include consistent worry, lack of ability to find words and feeling indifferent about things you used to enjoy.

Cognitive decline is more common than you might expect, affecting one in nine adults in the U.S. Luckily, there are several habits that can slash your risk, including paying attention to what's on your plate. A recent study dove into which diet can help reduce—and even prevent—symptoms of cognitive decline.

A recent study out of Rush University Medical Center took a deep dive into what causes symptoms of cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease and dementia—and how one diet might help. The focus of their study was on the MIND diet, a fusion of the super healthy Mediterranean and DASH diet approaches, that is aimed at promoting brain health. This eating pattern prioritizes whole grains, leafy greens, vegetables, berries, nuts and even a nightly glass of wine. The MIND diet encourages beans, fish and poultry to be the primary proteins, with red meat, butter and processed foods being more limited.

a bowl of kale topped with Parmesan cheese
Jason Donnelly

The study followed 569 participants aged 65 and older starting in 1997 until death. Each participant completed annual evaluations and cognitive tests. In the development of Alzheimer's disease, proteins can get deposited throughout the brain, which can interfere with problem-solving and cognition. These protein deposits lead to the clinical manifestation of dementia and cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Once researchers established cognitive health and protein deposits, they looked at participants' eating patterns. Starting in 2004, they added a yearly food frequency questionnaire to assess adherence to a MIND diet eating pattern. They found that, regardless of an Alzheimer's diagnosis, the group with the closest adherence to the MIND diet had the fewest symptoms of cognitive decline. This is what's known as "cognitive resilience."

So what does this mean? And why does it matter? Basically, researchers found that not only can a MIND diet eating pattern reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease and dementia, but can also reduce the symptoms people experience—even after diagnosis. More research needs to be done to clarify the role of diet and the protein deposits that cognitive diseases can leave in your brain, but this study is encouraging for those who experience cognitive decline symptoms. To put it into practice, try our 1-Day Healthy Memory-Boosting Meal Plan.

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