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MIND Diet May Help Fight Development Of Alzheimer’s

I’ve just tripped across a new Diet regimen – new to me, anyway – that’s designed to protect the brain from the effects of neural plaques that usually lead to cognitive decline. It turns out that adhering to a modified Mediterranean Diet may be just what the doctor ordered…

Amyloid Plaques - © Changiz Geula - Northwestern UniversityAmyloid plaques: Disrupting neural communications in the brain.

There’s been a lot of talk about how to prevent the development of amyloid plaques – clumps of protein that disrupt nerve impulses in the brain. And many proposals have come forward to do just that. But now, a team of researchers at Rush University Medical Center has data-mined the results of a long-term survey of 569 subjects who were asked to complete annual food consumption questionnaires and undergo periodic tests of their cognitive ability to determine if there’s a correlation between diet and dementia.

The MIND Diet

The MIND Diet was developed by the late Dr. Martha Clare Morris of RUSH. It’s essentially a hybrid of the Med Diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Previous studies have drawn unquantified conclusions that MIND does, indeed, work. Now, research team leader Dr. Klodian Dhana says her team has put together a means of measuring MIND’s effects. That’s in recognition that not all folks who develop neural plaques develop Alzheimer’s.

“Some have the ability to maintain cognitive function despite the accumulation of these pathologies in the brain, and our study suggests that the MIND diet is associated with better cognitive functions independently of brain pathologies related to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Researchers arranged the data from the food consumption questionnaires into 144 food categories, and assigned MIND Diet scores to each participant according to whether their food choices fall within the 10 MIND ‘good food’ categories, or its 5 ‘bad food’ categories.

What they found

“We found that a higher MIND diet score was associated with better memory and thinking skills independently of Alzheimer’s disease pathology and other common age-related brain pathologies. The diet seemed to have a protective capacity and may contribute to cognitive resilience in the elderly.” Dhana explains.

The takewaway

An abstract of the study report says it best: “To adhere to and benefit from the MIND diet, a person would need to eat at least three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable and one other vegetable every day – along with a glass of wine – snack most days on nuts, have beans every other day or so, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week. A person also must limit intake of the designated unhealthy foods, limiting butter to less than 1.5 teaspoons a day and eating less than a serving a week of sweets and pastries, whole fat cheese, and fried or fast food.”

My take

Let’s start with cost. I would love to have fish at least once a week. In fact, that’s probably a realistic dietary goal. But as many folks who are living paycheque-to-paycheque will tell you, fish for them has become an expensive, rare treat. Same with nuts. Fresh berries are particularly costly, too, especially when you live in the north and they’re out of season three-quarters of the year close to home.

I’d have a hard time agreeing to eat less of some of the things on the ‘bad foods’ list. Cheese is particular sore point with me. My granddad, on my dad’s side,was a country cheese maker, and we always had lots of the best Cheddar Cheese available at home and on our plates when I was a kid. Cheese sandwiches. Grilled Cheese. Cheese sauces on just about everything, at one time or another. Good cheese is a hard-to-break habit.

I would also have a hard time limiting my intake of sweets and pastries. That’s totally mea culpa. I have an ‘Everything’ Bagel with Cream Cheese and a couple of mini Apple Fritters for second breakfast almost every morning. (Yes. I long ago determined that I must be part Hobbit.) I refer to this meal as ‘early lunch’ when people question me about it.

I was surprised that MIND has nothing specific to say about Coffee. Other researchers have recently come to agree, more or less, that Coffee has more redeeming qualities than it has risks. It’s largely due to its concentrated anti-inflammatories. But, again, I short-circuit the benefits by making mine a latté at second breakfast. There goes the demon dairy, again.

On the other hand…

I love my brain. It’s one of the few assets I have left with which I can hope to make a living. Like writing in this blog every day. I am also keenly aware that age-related dementia runs in one side of my family. So the writing acts like exercise, keeping the ‘brain muscles’ toned and responsive. So, even though I have bones to pick (food metaphor, there!) with the MIND Diet, I will be taking a close look at how I can modify my daily food intake to adhere more closely to its recommendations. I’m already on a modified Mediterranean Diet (with the additions I mentioned earlier), so I think I can move closer to the MIND Diet without a great deal of disruptive change to my life, or bankrupting myself.

~ Maggie J.