MIND diet may lower dementia risk by slowing down aging processes

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How does the MIND diet help preserve brain health? Image credit: Johner Images/Getty Images.
  • Adherence to a MIND diet is associated with a lower incidence of dementia and mortality in a new study.
  • The MIND diet is based on the Mediterranean and DASH diets, and emphasizes plant-based foods, fish and poultry, with little in the way of saturated fats and sugars.
  • The study utilized the DunedinPACE methylation clock, which indicated that the bodies of people most closely following a MIND diet were wearing down more slowly.

A new study from Columbia University in New York suggests that eating a healthy diet can slow the effects of aging on the human body, including on the brain.

The right diet could, in effect, slow down the pace of brain aging, reducing the risk of dementia, suggests the study.

There are several epigenetic clocks researchers use to track the speed of a person’s biological aging process. They measure the state of various key indicators in the body. This study used the DunedinPACE clock developed in part by a senior author of the study, Dr. Daniel Belsky, PhD.

Working with data from 1,644 dementia-free participants who had enrolled in the Framingham Offspring Cohort study, the researchers scored each individual’s long-term adherence to a MIND diet. Participants were 60 years old or older, had a mean age of 69.6 years, and 54% were female.

After 14 years, 140 people developed dementia and 471 had died. The researchers found that people who most closely followed a MIND diet had a slower DunedinPACE clock rating, with a reduced risk of dementia or dying.

Further analysis revealed that a slower DunedinPACE clock was linked to 27% of the association between diet and dementia, and 57% of the link between diet and mortality.

The study is published in the Annals of Neurology.

In developing the DunedinPACE clock, Belsky collaborated with colleagues at Duke University and the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Dr. Menka Gupta, MBBS, a certified functional medicine practitioner at Nutra Nourish, who was not involved in the study, described it as “a DNA methylation biomarker of the pace of aging.”

DNA methylation is a critical biochemical process in the body that deteriorates with age, offering one way to assess the pace of an individual’s biological aging process. As a biomarker of DNA methylation that occurs throughout the body, the DunedinPACE clock assesses multi-system biological aging.

“[DunedinPACE] estimates the pace of biological aging over time and has shown high test-retest reliability,” said Gupta. “It is recognized for its ability to predict longitudinal pace of aging effectively.”

Belsky explained how the clock works in greater detail, recalling that “DunedinPACE was developed by studying changes in 19 indicators of the integrity of several different systems in the body:cardiovascular, hepatic, renal, pulmonary, periodontal, immune, metabolic, [and] endocrine.”

He said DunedinPACE acts “like a speedometer for the aging process, summarizing the overall rate of change across these systems.”

Slower DunedinPACE values, Belsky said, “reflect better preservation of organ system integrity during the aging process.” A slower DunedinPACE rate means less accumulation of aging-based molecular damage at the cellular level.

Clocks can not, however, solve the basic mystery of how or why we age, noted Belsky: “Work to establish exactly where the aging process we measure originates — cellular changes that affect organs or organ-level changes reflected in cellular phenotypes — is ongoing.”

In addition, as a system that measures multi-system aging, DunedinPACE — and the study — do not pinpoint specific nutrients in the MIND diet that may promote healthy cognition.

First author of the new study, Dr. Aline Thomas, PhD, described how the MIND diet was formulated specifically for reducing dementia in 2015.

Thomas collaborated with one of the study’s other authors, Dr. Yian Gu, MD, MS, PhD in providing comments to Medical News Today. They noted that:

“Combining key principles from two healthy diets — i.e., the Mediterranean diet and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, the MIND diet emphasizes high intake of neuroprotective foods such as fish, green leafy vegetables, berries, and nuts, while minimizing intake of red meat, butter, [and] sweets.”

Thomas and Gu added that the study also found an association between the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Guideline Adherence Index — another gauge of healthy eating — and a slower pace of aging, “suggesting that a generally healthy and balanced diet is beneficial for systemic biological aging and cognitive aging.”

Cognitive health and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease appear to be complicated and likely multifactorial, so eating the right foods must be viewed as part of a prevention strategy, but not necessarily an entire one.

“The MIND diet,” said Gupta, “helps in reducing inflammation, improving metabolic health, and supporting heart and brain health.” She explained that “diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are crucial for reducing neuroinflammation and oxidative stress, both of which are implicated in cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.”

“It has been shown,” added Thomas, “that omega-3 fatty acids are incorporated in neural membranes and implicated in synaptic plasticity and hippocampal neurogenesis, and some polyphenols have anti-amyloid and anti-tau properties.”

“Diets high in saturated fats and sugars, on the other hand,” said Gupta, “can exacerbate neuroinflammation and contribute to insulin resistance in the brain, which is linked to cognitive decline.”

Thomas noted that “[t]he MIND diet provides key nutrients for brain health: long-chain omega-3 fatty acids with anti-inflammatory and vasoprotective properties, polyphenols which are antioxidants, as well as phenolic compounds, vitamins E and B, sphingolipids or choline with properties against amyloidogenesis, oxidative stress, or inflammation.”

Finally, noted Gupta, a diet rich in fiber promotes healthy gut microbiota, which can benefit the gut-brain axis.

Read the full article here

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