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Unless you haven’t read any health news lately, you know that inflammation is behind most of the serious health challenges we face today.
Chronic inflammation is the driving force behind irritable bowel disease, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
And we’re not just talking about bodily ailments. Research shows that clinical depression is associated with a 30 percent increase in inflammation in the brain.
So it’s not a very big stretch to understand that inflammation also plays a critical role in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
In fact, two recent studies show just how strong that connection is…
Inflammatory foods feed dementia
In November, Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas of Columbia University and his colleagues published a study that looked at whether inflammatory foods are associated with greater rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
They analyzed data from the Hellenic Longitudinal Investigation of Aging and Diet (HELIAD), a population-based study that investigates associations between nutrition and age-related cognition in Greece.
Looking at the diets of 1,059 older adults (average age 73.1 years) who took part in HELIAD, Dr. Scarmeas and his team obtained a diet inflammatory index score for each.
Over a three-year follow-up period, 62 of these people were diagnosed with dementia.
As expected, higher dietary inflammatory index scores correlated with higher dementia risk.
But one finding can be seen as hopeful…
The team saw a gradual increase in dementia risk as diets became more and more inflammatory.
In the world of research, this is known as a “dose-response” relationship.
Why is it hopeful?
Because it tells us that we can slow down or stop the “dementia risk train” at any point along the way by changing our diet.
In other words, if we’re eating a pro-inflammatory diet now, we can stop and make changes before our risk increases.
Inflammation is strongly linked to irreversible brain damage
Dementia describes the symptoms that someone experiences as a result of a brain disease. These can include memory loss, mood and behavioral changes, and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving and language.
Alzheimer’s is just one brain disease that causes dementia.
A March 2020 study looked at another one of these diseases, called frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a disease where neurons in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain are irreversibly damaged.
FTD tends to occur at a younger age. About 60 percent of persons with FTD are between 45 and 64 years old.
There are three types of FTD, including Pick’s disease, a devastating condition where someone as young as 20 may exhibit extreme personality changes and gradually deteriorate to a non-functional state.
A research team at the University of Cambridge recruited 31 patients with three different types of frontotemporal dementia. They all underwent brain scans to detect inflammation.
The scans also looked for “junk proteins,” abnormal buildups of tau proteins that cause irreversible brain damage.
According to the study, across the brain, and in all three types of FTD, the more inflammation in each part of the brain, the more harmful build-up of junk proteins they saw.
“We predicted the link between inflammation in the brain and the build-up of damaging proteins, but even we were surprised by how tightly these two problems mapped on to each other,” said Dr. Thomas Cope from the department of clinical neurosciences at Cambridge.
Professor James Rowe of the Cambridge Centre for Frontotemporal Dementia is hopeful that this discovery will lead to treatments for other neurological diseases.
“It is an important discovery that all three types of frontotemporal dementia have inflammation, linked to the build-up of harmful abnormal proteins in different parts of the brain. The illnesses are in other ways very different from each other, but we have found a role for inflammation in all of them.
“This, together with the fact that it is known to play a role in Alzheimer’s, suggests that inflammation is part of many other neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. This offers hope that immune-based treatments might help slow or prevent these conditions.”
Start now to eat a brain-protective diet
So what does this all mean for you?
It’s proof that controlling inflammation is one of your best weapons against cognitive decline as you age.
And, as with so many things, your diet can play a huge role. What foods should you eat?
In the HELIAD study, the group that had lowest dietary inflammatory index scores ate about 20 servings of fruit, 19 of vegetables, four of legumes, and 11 of coffee or tea a week, on average.
The group with the highest dietary inflammatory index scores that correlated to higher dementia risk ate much lower servings of those same foods.
But if you really want to protect your brain as you get older, you’ll want to look into the MIND diet (where wine is its own food group!). It’s a hybrid between the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.
One thing these diets have in common is they point you to foods that fight inflammation, including:
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Fatty Fish
- Green tea
- Dark chocolate (in moderation)
- Olive oil
- Whole grains
A bonus: by following one of these diets, you’ll be protecting your heart, too!
Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!
Dementia Linked to Inflammatory Foods Medpage Today