A brilliant team of researchers recently published a report in Alzheimer's & Dementia (Journal of the Alzheimer's Association) documenting a specific diet that could significantly lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, even if the diet is not meticulously followed.
Here’s the new brain diet:
- Every day, eat at least 3 servings of whole grains + a salad + one other vegetable + a glass of wine
- On MOST days, also nosh on nuts
- And every OTHER day, eat beans
- At least twice weekly, eat poultry and either blueberries or strawberries
- At least weekly, eat fish
Nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, PhD, and colleagues developed this cleverly acronymed dining program, dubbed the MIND diet. MIND stands for ”Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay" (and DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, found to reduce risk of cardiovascular problems that lead to heart attacks and strokes.)
The MIND diet encompasses 10 "brain-healthy food groups" -- green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine -- and 5 UNHEALTHY groups: red meats; butter and stick margarine; cheese (darn it!), pastries and sweets (sigh), and fried or fast food.
We're told to limit unhealthy foods to less than 1 tablespoon of butter per day, and less than 1 serving each PER WEEK of cheese, fried food, and/or fast food. (Limiting cheese is going to be tough for me, I adore smoked mozzarella.)
But here's my motivation: the study showed that this diet lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 53 percent in participants who adhered rigorously to the diet, and by about 35 percent in those who followed it moderately well.
"With late-onset Alzheimer’s, genetic risk factors are a small piece of the picture," Dr. Morris said, pointing out that past studies suggest that what we eat may play a significant role in determining who gets Alzheimer's and who doesn't.
The study enlisted nearly a thousand volunteers already participating in the ongoing Rush Memory and Aging Project, which began in 1997.
Dr. Morris said, “The results need to be confirmed by other investigators in different populations and also through randomized trials,” emphasizing that is the best way to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the MIND diet and reductions in the incidence of Alzheimer's disease.
That said, her team’s study showed that the longer a person eats the MIND diet, the less risk that person will have of developing Alzheimer’s disease. As is the case with health-related habits, Dr. Morris said, "You'll be healthier if you've been doing the right thing for a long time.”
Meditation is good for the gray matter
Scientists at UCLA’s Brain Mapping Center recently compared 50 people who had mediated for years with 50 who didn’t. People in both groups showed a loss of gray matter as they aged. Among those who meditated, the volume of gray matter did not decline as much as the ones who didn’t meditate. The gray matter is the tissue that’s packed with neurons.
Researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the difference: a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.
Each group in the study was made up of 28 men and 22 women ranging in age from 24 to 77. Those who meditated had been doing so for four to 46 years, with an average of 20 years.
Although the findings suggest a loss of brain tissue with increasing age regardless of meditation practice— they also suggest that large parts of the gray matter in the brains of those who meditated seemed to be better preserved.
The researchers caution that they cannot draw a direct, causal connection between meditation and preserving gray matter in the brain. Genetic brain differences and other factors (such as diet and exercise routines) may affect those who were studied.
“Still, our results are promising,” UCLA neurologist Dr. Eileen Luders said. “Accumulating scientific evidence that meditation has brain-altering capabilities might ultimately allow for an effective translation from research to practice.”
Original Research: “Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy” by Eileen Luders, Nicolas Cherbuin and Florian Kurth in Frontiers in Psychology, January 21, 2015.