Eating more olive oil, nuts, fish, poultry, and certain fruits and vegetables and limiting red meats and high-fat dairy products may help ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
Evidence that links specific nutrients to the prevention of dementia has turned up regularly from labs around the globe. But in the real world, people don’t eat nutrients, they eat food. And they eat combinations of different foods, so researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York analyzed the diets of more than 2,000 men and women age 65 and older in New York City to find out how eating patterns relate to dementia.
The participants, who were free of dementia when the study began, were evaluated for signs of Alzheimer’s disease every 18 months for about four years. At the same time, the researchers analyzed their diets to pinpoint foods that contained nutrients previously linked to Alzheimer’s disease—such as those high in saturated fats including red meat, butter, and cream—as well as those linked to a lower risk of the disease—foods rich in “good” fats and brain-healthy vitamins such as almonds, olive oil, and oily fish. By the end of the study, 253 participants had developed Alzheimer’s disease.
One eating pattern stood out as especially protective. Those least likely to be stricken with Alzheimer’s consumed a combination of foods rich in brain-healthy nutrients including olive oil and vinegar, nuts, fish, poultry, vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, green leafy vegetables, and fruits, including tomatoes. They also ate less red meat, butter, and high-fat dairy products.
“The men and women who adhered most closely to this eating pattern had a 38 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” says neurologist Nikolaos Scarmeas, M.D., one of the study’s authors. “The combination of foods was most important. That’s where you get the benefit.”
Scarmeas cautions that it’s too soon to offer firm advice about diet and Alzheimer’s disease. However, research shows that nutritious foods can improve cardiovascular health and lower cancer rates. “And there are hints they may be helpful for brain disease, so it makes sense to eat them,” he says.
“This study supports what past studies have shown,” says Martha Morris of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. “The diet the authors identify as good is consistent with current recommendations.”
The article was released online in the Archives of Neurology on April 12 and will be published in the journal’s June issue.
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Nissa Simon, who lives in New Haven, Conn., writes about nutrition and medical issues.