Following a healthy diet does NOT reduce dementia risk, study says

MINNEAPOLIS – A healthy diet doesn’t reduce the risk of developing dementia, according to a new study. The latest report contrasts with previous research claiming that following a healthy eating regime — like the Mediterranean diet — can minimize the chances of cognitive decline.

People who follow a Mediterranean diet eat lots of vegetables, beans, peas, fruits, fish, and healthy fats. These dieters also avoid dairy products, meats, and saturated fatty acids.

While there are multiple forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. It can cause memory loss, confusion, difficulties with language and understanding, and even changes in behavior. These symptoms often get worse as patients age.

The researchers followed 28,000 people with an average age of 58 for over 20 years. None of the participants had dementia at the start of the study. During this time, participants filled out a seven-day food diary, a detailed food frequency questionnaire, and completed an interview.

By the end of the study, 1,943 people (6.9%) received a dementia diagnosis, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. The study, published in the journal Neurology, examined how closely each person’s diet aligned with a Mediterranean diet.

After analyzing the results, the researchers didn’t find any link between a patient’s diet and a reduced risk of dementia. However, more research is necessary, due to the risk of people misreporting what they ate.

“Previous studies on the effects of diet on dementia risk have had mixed results,” says study author Isabelle Glans, MD, of Lund University in a media release. “While our study does not rule out a possible association between diet and dementia, we did not find a link in our study, which had a long follow-up period, included younger participants than some other studies and did not require people to remember what foods they had eaten regularly years before.”

Diet on its own may not have a strong enough effect on memory and thinking, but is likely one factor among others that influence the course of cognitive function. Dietary strategies will still potentially be needed along with other measures to control risk factors,” adds Nils Peters, MD, from the University of Basel in Switzerland, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

The American Academy of Neurology is the world’s largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with over 38,000 members. It is dedicated to promoting the highest quality care to patients suffering from disorders of the brain and nervous system. These include Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.

South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.

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