The diet that slowed aging and reduced dementia risk

Diet is the foundation of health.

That’s why if you have any kind of cardiovascular or metabolic health issues, you’ve probably heard all the recommendations for keeping your diet as healthy as possible.

The effects of diet on brain health is also something we hear much about.

But according to researchers at Columbia University, much of the attention on nutrition within the scope of dementia research has focused on how specific nutrients affect the brain. Take omega-3s for example, or vitamin D.

That’s why they decided to test a hypothesis about another way diet may protect against dementia… by slowing down the body’s overall pace of biological aging.

And now we have the results that have been decades in the making.

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Diet, aging and dementia

Considering that previous research has suggested both diet (especially one high in ultra-processed foods) and dementia risk are linked with accelerated biological aging, it would certainly stack the evidence that the right diet is an integral strategy for avoiding dementia.

So with that in mind, research began…

It included analyzing data gathered from 1,644 participants in the second generation of the Framingham Heart Study, the Offspring Cohort. At study start, most of the participants averaged 60 years of age and were dementia-free.

Data collected from the group over several years and during 7 to 9 follow-up visits, included:

  • Their long-term adherence to the Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet (MIND), which was assessed from 1991-2008.
  • Their pace of biological aging was measured via blood DNA methylation data collected from 2005-2008, using the DunedinPACE epigenetic clock — which estimates the difference between a person’s chronological age and cellular aging as biological processes of aging occur.
  • Physical examination, lifestyle-related questionnaires, blood sampling and (most importantly) neurocognitive testing.

Over 14 years of follow-up, 140 of the participants developed dementia. And valuable information was learned…

  • They found that folks who most closely adhered to the MIND diet experienced slower aging — as measured by DunedinPACE.
  • It also showed an association between slower aging and lower odds for dementia.

Specifically, they calculated that about 27% of the association between the diet and lowered dementia risk was probably due to slowed aging.

“Our findings suggest that slower pace of aging mediates part of the relationship of healthy diet with reduced dementia risk, and therefore, monitoring pace of aging may inform dementia prevention,” says first author Dr. Aline Thomas, a Columbia postdoc.

“However, a portion of the diet-dementia association remains unexplained,” Thomas says, adding that continued investigation of the brain-specific mechanisms is warranted.

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Keeping up with the MIND diet

So, what exactly is the MIND diet? MIND stands for Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. And like its name suggests, it’s basically a combination of elements of the Mediterranean and DASH diets.

In the MIND diet, the focus is on these brain-healthy food groups:

  • At least 3 servings a day of whole grains
  • At least 6 servings a week of green leafy vegetables
  • At least 1 serving a day of other vegetables
  • At least 5 servings a week of nuts
  • At least 4 meals a week of beans
  • At least 2 servings of berries a week
  • At least 2 meals a week of poultry
  • At least 1 meal a week of fish
  • Mainly olive oil if using added fat

The MIND diet also suggests avoiding or limiting foods that accelerate aging. The majority of them are ultra-processed foods, plentiful in the Western diet and previous research indicates they shorten telomers causing the cells in the body to age faster.

Now, you don’t have to eliminate all of them if you can’t, but for optimal health, eat as little of these as possible:

  • Red meats
  • Butter and margarine
  • Cheese
  • Pastries and sweets
  • Fried or fast foods
  • Less than 1 tablespoon a day of butter or stick margarine
  • Less than 5 servings a week of sweets and pastries
  • Less than 4 servings a week of red meat
  • Less than 1 serving a week of whole-fat cheese and fried or fast foods.

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Study Shows a Healthy Diet is Linked with a Slower Pace of Aging, Reduced Dementia Risk — Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

Diet, Pace of Biological Aging, and Risk of Dementia in the Framingham Heart Study — Annals of Neurology

Diet Review: MIND Diet — Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.