Lifestyle Choice: Improved dietary choices over time to possibly delay progression of Alzheimer’s

More and more, researchers are promoting lifestyle changes as an avenue for possibly keeping Alzheimer’s disease at bay. A comprehensive review article published in the Med Review (March and and Jensen, 2017) provide strong evidence to support that a diet rich in foods like fruit, vegetables (leafy greens), legumes, and olive oil will delay the progression of neurodegenerative diseases that affect the brain such as Alzheimer’s.

Fruits and vegetables, including teas, are high in antioxidants called “flavonol.” Flavonol can be found in the pigments of plants and are known to have beneficial effects on health. Flavonol can be found in foods like olive oil, pears, broccoli, kale, beans, tea, tomato sauce, apples, oranges, and wine. It is particularly higher in broccoli, kale, beans, and teas. A recent study (Holland, et al, 2020) published in Neurology, American Academy of Neurology, showed promising evidence that individuals who eat foods high in antioxidant flavonol may be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s dementia in later years. Researchers found that those with a higher dosage of Flavonol foods in their diets, were 48% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s dementia compared to the group with lower dosage.

In other studies looking at nutrition and diets, researchers suggest that diets, such as the Mediterranean diet was associated with an estimated 40% lower risk of cognitive impairment and improved cognitive function, along with a 65% reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (Valls-Pedret et al., 2015; Marchand & Jensen, 2017). The Mediterranean diet consist of “plant-based foods, whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetable oils and fish.” These protect the cells in the brain while fighting harmful inflammation and oxidation.  One’s dietary pattern is suggested to count more importantly in preventing Alzheimer’s. Meaning that a combination of various foods interact to promote brain health. The common components suggested include: a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and a diet low in red meat (particularly processed meats) and sweets (Marchand and Jensen, 2017). These are all suggested as beneficial in slowing cognitive decline. There are several dietary patterns available that have shown similar results of improving cognitive health. One such dietary pattern is the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH). This is a “low-fat diet, high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts, with little red meat, sugar sweetened beverages or desserts” (Marchand and Jenson, 2017, p. 269). There are several others available, including the MIND diet (a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet) which promotes a plant-based diet with limited intake of animal and high saturated fats (Morris, et al., 2015; Marchand and Jensen, 2017). Studies testing the MIND diet reported that it lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s by 54%.

Healthy dietary patterns also includes important nutrients that are absorbed from our diets that will promote brain health. Some nutrients highlighted included Vitamin E, an antioxidant found in oils, seeds, whole grains and leafy green vegetables. Vitamin E was “associated with slower cognitive decline, lower risk of dementia, and reduced accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins.” Vitamin E is responsible for absorbing free radicals and protecting the brain. Vitamin B12 is also important because deficiency can lead to confusion and memory problems ultimately increasing the risk of dementia. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and nut oils) are important nutrients that help in the transmission of signals between cells in the brain.

What is the take home message? Jamaica is abundant in the variety of fruits, vegetables, bush/herbal teas, grains, seeds, and oil (e.g. coconut oil). With the changing patterns of lifestyles influenced by the introduction of technology and fast-food chains, we have moved away from home-prepared meals, eating less of a diet consisting of plant-based foods. Yet, the research evidence in the last decade, are pointing in the direction of returning to the home-cooked and nature-based diets that are much more wholesome, and promote healthy cognitive brain health. Additionally, forced isolation resulting from COVID-19 pandemic have forced us to think about old or new ways of practicing a healthier dietary lifestyle. This includes the reintroduction of healthier dietary patterns that includes foods and nutrients that will improve cognitive health over time (at least five years suggested by researchers). Keeping in mind some of the suggested diets introduced in this article, older Jamaicans can make substitutions using the home-grown fruits and vegetables, bush/teas, to reap the benefits shown, hence, promoting cognitive health and overall well-being.

Sharon E. McKenzie, MA, MS, PhD, CTRS, CDP, CADDCT.
Dr. McKenzie is a Visiting Lecturer at University of the West Indies in the Department of Sociology, Psychology, and Social Work. Her specialty is in the area of therapeutic activities and other non-pharmacological interventions for persons living with dementia.

References

Holland, T.M. (Jan 29, 2020). Antioxidant flavonol linked to lower risk of Alzheimer’s dementia. Neurology: American Academy of Neurology. News Release.

Marchand, NE, & Jensen, MK. (2017). The role of dietary and lifestyle factors in maintaining cognitive health. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 12(4): 268-295.

Morris, MC, Tangney, CC Wang, Y, Sacks, FM, Bennet, DA, & Aggarwal, NT. (2015). MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 11(9): 1007-1014.

Valls-Pedret, C, Sala-Vila, A, Serra-Mir, M, Corella, D, de la Torre, R, Martinez-Gonzalez, MA, Martinez-Lapiscina, EH, Fito, M, Perez-Heras, A, Salas-Salvado, J, Estruch, R, & Ros, E. (2015). Mediterranean diet and age-related cognitive decline: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Internal Medicine, 175(7): 1094-1103.