Woman eating salad, vegetarian or plant-based diet and healthy lifestyle concept

Woman eating a salad (© Prostock-studio - stock.adobe.com)

NEW YORK — Alzheimer’s disease can impact anyone, but studies show that women tend to face a higher risk of this form of dementia in old age. Women make up over two-thirds of current Alzheimer’s patients. Now, however, researchers from New York University suggest what women eat in middle age may help them ward off cognitive decline years later. Scientists found that women who followed a heart-healthy diet designed to lower blood pressure were about 17 percent less likely to report memory loss and other signs of cognitive decline decades down the line.

Put together by researchers from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, this new study indicates a lifestyle modification during these years may be enough to improve cognitive function later in life for women. More specifically, that “lifestyle modification” is adopting the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet.

If further validated by additional research, these findings could help countless people. There were 6.5 million Americans over the age of 65 diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease as of 2022, and that statistic is expected to more than double by the year 2060.

“Subjective complaints about daily cognitive performance are early predictors of more serious neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s,” says Yu Chen, PhD, MPH, professor in the Department of Population Health and senior author of the study, in a media release. “With more than 30 years follow-up, we found that the stronger the adherence to a DASH diet in midlife, the less likely women are to report cognitive issues much later in life.”

The DASH diet features lots of plant-based foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium, while simultaneously limiting ingestion of saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar. High blood pressure, meanwhile, has been identified as a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia for quite some time (especially among the middle-aged).

Dash diet foods
Dash diet (© Larisa – stock.adobe.com)

Study authors analyzed data encompassing 5,116 of the 14,000+ women enrolled in the NYU Women’s Health Study, which is one of the longest-running projects of its kind focusing on analyzing the impact of lifestyle and other factors on the development of some of the most common cancers among women, in addition to other chronic conditions.

Participants’ diets were tracked using questionnaires between 1985 and 1991 at study enrollment when participants were, on average, 49 years-old. Then, everyone was tracked for 30+ years (average age of 79) and asked to report any cognitive difficulties. Those who did not return the surveys were contacted by phone.

Next, the study authors assessed self-reported cognitive complaints among participants through the use of six validated standard questions that are indicative of later mild cognitive impairment, which is known to lead to dementia. The questions revolved around difficulties in remembering recent events or shopping lists, understanding spoken instructions or group conversation, and navigating familiar streets.

Among the six cognitive complaints, 33 percent of women reported having more than just one. Those who had adhered most closely to the DASH diet showed a 17 percent lower chance of reporting multiple cognitive complaints.

“Our data suggest that it is important to start a healthy diet in midlife to prevent cognitive impairment in older age,” adds lead study author Yixiao Song.

“Following the DASH diet may not only prevent high blood pressure, but also cognitive issues,” concludes Fen Wu, PhD, a senior associate research scientist who co-led the study.

Moving forward, researchers say further studies are warranted across multiple racial and ethnic groups in order to determine the generalizability of the results.

The study is published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

You might also be interested in:

Lea la versión en español en EstudioRevela.com: Cambiar a la dieta DASH puede proteger a las mujeres de desarrollar la enfermedad de Alzheimer.

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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1 Comment

  1. Jerry says:

    Here we go again. The DASH diet removes most red meat. This removes a substantial amount of microbiome-damaging glyphosate from the diet. The latest research shows there is a direct connection between gut bacteria and brain function. In fact, they have been able to give healthy mice Alzheimer’s disease by giving the mice a fecal transplant from a diseased mouse.

    Instead of limiting the diet of people, we should ban glyphosate and feed our animals a species appropriate diet free of added poisions.