Very good question! Though there are no medications yet to treat or prevent dementia, the lifestyle choices recommended to maximize overall health are the same for maintaining good brain health. These include exercise, social engagement and diet.
Most people are surprised that diet plays such an important role. The brain is like any other organ that’s susceptible to oxidation damage, and eating the right foods can help protect against this damage. Think of oxidation like a fire getting started. “Good” foods act like little tiny fire extinguishers that help put out those fires which otherwise would cause damage leading to loss of brain function. According to UC Davis nutrition expert Liz Applegate, “The research is very compelling. There is a 53 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s if you follow the MIND diet.”
The MIND diet is a combination of two long-studied diets that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. It provides an array of antioxidant compounds (such as berries) and omega-3 fats (from fish), while avoiding the foods that may accelerate cognitive decline, like fried foods. Fried foods appear to accelerate oxidative damage and promote inflammation.
We know that people with Alzheimer’s and dementia have very similar characteristics to people with Type 2 diabetes. In fact, some researchers want to call Alzheimer’s the “Type 3” diabetes. Over years and years, especially if your body is insulin resistant, high blood sugar levels cause damage to linings of blood vessels and make them more prone to gunk building up — such as the amyloid or plaque that we see in brain or heart disease.
The MIND diet, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, is based on the benefits of both the Mediterranean and DASH diets. After a 4-year study in 2015, researchers at the Rush University Medical Center combined the two diets and identified 10 good and five bad food categories that appear to affect cognitive decline. The MIND diet is now ranked as the #1 “easiest-to-follow diet” and the #2 “best diet overall” out of 38 well-known eating plans.
To follow the MIND diet, eat plenty of these foods: leafy salad greens, other colorful vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and a daily glass of wine. Avoid these foods: red meat, butter/margarine, cheese, pastries/sweets, and fried/fast food.