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  • A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and beans may be linked to a lower risk of developing dementia, according to a new study out of Greece.
  • People who ate an anti-inflammatory diet were less likely to develop dementia during the study time period.
  • Less inflammation in the body may aid the brain and help lower dementia risk over time.

A new study from the American Academy of Neurology found that people who follow an anti-inflammatory diet — which is rich in fruits, vegetables, beans along with tea or coffee — have a lower risk of developing dementia later on.

These foods are great sources of beneficial vitamins and minerals, which can protect our cells from damage and prevent inflammation in the body.

There’s a known link between inflammation and neurocognitive diseases like dementia.

Decreasing the amount of inflammation in the body, and therefore the brain, can potentially help lower the risk of developing these diseases.

The report was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, on Wednesday.

“We know diet plays a major role in our overall health, whether it is heart health or brain health or anything in between. This study adds to the growing body of evidence that what we choose to eat can affect our risk for disease, and, in this case, the risk of dementia,” said Liz Weinandy, MPH, a registered dietitian nutritionist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Anti-inflammatory diet linked to a lower risk of dementia

Over the course of 3 years, the researchers regularly surveyed 1,059 people in Greece about the types of food they ate.

The participants were split into three groups and given a score based on how inflammatory their diet was.

People who strongly adhered to an anti-inflammatory diet were given a dietary inflammatory score of -1.76 and lower. On average, they consumed 20 servings of fruit, 19 servings of vegetables, 4 servings of beans or other legumes, and 11 servings of coffee or tea per week.

People who ate a more inflammatory diet, eating about 9 servings of fruit, 10 of vegetables, 2 of legumes and 9 of coffee or tea per week, received a score of 0.21 and above.


Throughout the study, 62 people (6 percent) developed dementia.

People who developed dementia followed a more inflammatory diet and had, on average, a dietary inflammatory score of -0.06.


Each one-point increase was associated with a 21 percent increased risk of developing dementia.

Additionally, people with the highest dietary inflammatory scores were 3 times more likely to develop dementia compared to people with the lowest inflammatory scores.

The researchers say the findings could help inform dietary recommendations to protect cognitive health over time.

How does diet impact cognitive health? 

Fruits, vegetables, and coffee are rich in healthful vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols.

“All of these nutrients and compounds help to reduce the chronic low-grade inflammation in the body, thus why a diet rich in these foods is deemed ‘anti-inflammatory,’” said Weinandy.

Elizabeth Klingbeil, PhD, a registered dietitian and assistant professor in the department of Nutrition & Dietetics at Johnson & Wales University-Providence, says these foods are great sources of fiber, which prevents chronic, low-grade inflammation, along with antioxidants, which prevent cell damage in our bodies.

Highly-processed foods — like fast foods, saturated fats, and sugary beverages — increase inflammation in the body.

Furthermore, nutrient deficiencies can impair cognition and lead to impaired thinking, fatigue, and depression, according to Klingbeil.

“The role of inflammation in neurocognitive diseases — such as dementia — has been well-established. Thereby, decreasing the amount of systemic inflammation in the body may reduce the risk of development or severity of these diseases,” Klingbeil said.

Less inflammation in the body means less inflammation in the brain.

Klingbeil recommends limiting consumption of saturated fats, added sugars, and excess sodium and consuming more fiber and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.

Diet alone won’t protect cognitive health, Weinandy said.

“For optimal health, we want to focus on an overall approach for brain health that includes a healthy diet, regular activity, stress reduction and adequate sleep,” Weinandy said.

The bottom line

New research has found that consuming an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and tea or coffee may protect the brain and reduce the risk of dementia. These foods, which are rich in beneficial vitamins and minerals, can prevent cell damage in the body and create less inflammation than fatty and sugary foods. Less inflammation in the body means less inflammation in the brain and better cognitive health.

 



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