Brain Insurance

Would you make some simple diet changes to substantially lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease?

Loss of independence. Difficulty relating to family and friends. The greatest fears of aging are the consequences of mental decline. A clear picture is now emerging about the extraordinary role of diet for maintaining cognitive function.

The data is very impressive. A Mediterranean-style diet reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by a full 33% compared to less healthy choices.

Degenerative changes in the brain are accelerated by inflammation as well as by depletion of vital nutrients.  Foods in a Mediterranean-style diet are naturally anti-inflammatory and nutrient rich, including vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, and extra-virgin olive oil.

High intake of these nutrient-rich foods have been shown to reduce the risk of developing diabetes and hypertension, conditions closely linked to cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease

What is the US diet now? A recent study shows that only 14% of Americans consume the recommended intake of vegetables (2-3 cups/day). Access to healthy foods, an issue for many, can be particularly challenging for the elderly. Many seniors have difficulty preparing food, and rely on packaged, nutrient-poor foods. For those who reside in long term care facilities, access to vegetables and fruit can even be more limited.

And that’s especially unfortunate. Because even for those whose cognitive function has already diminished, healthy eating has been shown to put the brakes on further decline.  Significant intake of each healthy food group (including vegetables, fruit, legumes, fish), was linked to an 11% reduction in the risk of mild cognitive problems converting to Alzheimer disease.

A recent study showed that a Mediterranean style diet with increased consumption of extra-virgin olive oil confirmed improved memory and improved in all composite tests of cognitive function. Not surprising since extra-virgin olive oil is rich in oleocanthal, a highly potent antioxidant that gives olive oil it’s peppery finish and aids in the clearance of brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The best news of all is that more of our brain health than most people realize is within our control. Some parts are related to genetics, others to causes yet unknown. But why not do all we can to stave off a decline in mental function? Eating the right foods, combined with being as physically active as possible, can stack the deck way in your favor.

Here are some tips to get the best brain insurance possible:

Load up your diet with more vegetables, fruit, nuts and use extra-virgin olive oil as your main cooking oil. An added benefit-you’ll experience more energy than with a more typical diet filled with poor quality carbs and fat.

For the seniors in your life, do whatever is possible to fill their diets with the same brain sustaining foods. If they are in an extended care facility, lobby the management for inclusion of more of these items on the menu and/or bring them along with you with you when you visit.

Stephen Devries, MD, FACC

Executive Director, Gaples Institute for Integrative Cardiology

Much More at:


US Intake of Fruit and Vegetables

Mediterranean Diet, Cognitive Function, and Dementia

Association of Mediterranean Diet with Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease

Mediterranean Diet and Age-Related Cognitive Decline

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