Young Forever: The Diet That Successfully Slows Down Biological Aging

💡What To Know:

  • The MIND diet shows a link to slowing aging and reducing dementia risk.
  • The MIND diet focuses on whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, and berries.
  • Nearly 7 million people have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

NEW YORK — As we age, many of us become increasingly concerned about maintaining our cognitive health and reducing our risk of developing dementia. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent this devastating condition, a growing body of research suggests that the food we eat can play a crucial role in brain health and cognitive decline as we age. A team from Columbia University is adding to this conversation, showing how the healthy “MIND” diet may be best for preventing dementia.

The study, published in the Annals of Neurology, investigated the hypothesis that a healthy diet protects against dementia by slowing down the body’s overall pace of biological aging.

“Much attention to nutrition in dementia research focuses on the way specific nutrients affect the brain. We tested the hypothesis that healthy diet protects against dementia by slowing down the body’s overall pace of biological aging,” says lead author Daniel Belsky, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology at Columbia School of Public Health and the Columbia Aging Center, in a statement.

To test this hypothesis, the researchers used data from the second generation of the Framingham Heart Study, known as the Offspring Cohort. This long-term study, which began in 1971, followed participants who were 60 years of age or older, free of dementia, and had available dietary, epigenetic, and follow-up data. Over the course of the study, participants were assessed every four to seven years, undergoing physical examinations, lifestyle-related questionnaires, blood sampling, and, starting in 1991, neurocognitive testing.

The researchers focused on 1,644 participants, of whom 140 developed dementia during the study period. To measure the pace of biological aging, they used an innovative tool called DunedinPACE, an epigenetic clock developed by Belsky and colleagues at Duke University and the University of Otago. This “speedometer for the biological processes of aging” measures how quickly a person’s body is deteriorating as they age, providing a unique insight into the complex interplay between chronological age and biological age.

The study found that higher adherence to the Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, which emphasizes whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, and berries, was associated with a slower pace of aging as measured by DunedinPACE. Importantly, this slower pace of aging was also linked to reduced risks of both dementia and mortality. In fact, the researchers determined that a slower pace of aging accounted for 27 percent of the association between a healthy diet and reduced dementia risk and 57 percent of the association between a healthy diet and reduced mortality risk.

Food used in MIND diet
The Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet emphasizes whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, and berries. (credit: RUSH University)

These findings suggest that the protective effects of a healthy diet on brain health may be mediated, at least in part, by its ability to slow down the overall pace of biological aging.

“We have some strong evidence that a healthy diet can protect against dementia, but the mechanism of this protection is not well understood,” notes co-senior author Yian Gu, PhD, associate professor of Neurological Sciences at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and head of the Mailman School Neuroepidemiology Unit.

While this study provides valuable insights into the complex relationship between diet, aging, and dementia risk, the researchers acknowledge that there is still much to learn.

“A portion of the diet-dementia association remains unexplained, therefore we believe that continued investigation of brain-specific mechanisms in well-designed mediation studies is warranted,” explains first author Aline Thomas, PhD, a postdoc at the Columbia Department of Neurology and Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain.

Despite these remaining questions, the study’s findings have important implications for both individuals and public health professionals. By highlighting the potential role of dietary choices in slowing the pace of biological aging and reducing dementia risk, the research underscores the importance of promoting healthy eating habits across the lifespan.

“If our observations are also confirmed in more diverse populations, monitoring biological aging, may indeed, inform dementia prevention,” Belsky notes.

For individuals looking to protect their brain health as they age, the study’s findings suggest that adopting a diet rich in whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, and berries may be a smart choice. While there is no guarantee that any specific diet will prevent dementia, making healthy dietary choices is a simple and accessible way to support overall health and well-being as we age.

StudyFinds’ Chris Melore contributed to this report.