Posted on Oct 20, 2023, 5 p.m.
Women following diets during middle age that are designed to lower blood pressure were 17% less likely to report memory loss or other signs of cognitive decline decades later, according to a study led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine that was recently published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia. These findings may have implications for the estimated 6.5 million Americans over the age of 65 who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2022, and this number is projected to more than double by the year 2060.
The DASH diet continually receives top rankings in dietary reports. This clearly defined meal plan emphasizes a high consumption of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy that are rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium while limiting intake of saturated fats, sodium, sugar, and cholesterol. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, it was designed to help people lower their blood pressure and improve overall health, but it can also help to lower inflammation and has been shown to be good for heart health.
Research shows that high blood pressure is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. This study investigated the potential of the DASH diet to help women protect cognitive function later in life as women make up more than two-thirds of those who become diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most prevalent form of dementia.
“Subjective complaints about daily cognitive performance are early predictors of more serious neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s,” said Yu Chen, PhD, MPH, professor in the Department of Population Health and senior author of the study. “With more than 30 years follow-up, we found that the stronger the adherence to a DASH diet in midlife, the less likely women are to report cognitive issues much later in life.”
For this study data was analyzed from 5,116 women with an average age of 49 years old who were enrolled in the NYU Women’s Health Study and they were followed for over 30 years to an average age of 79 years old. The women provided information at enrollment and between 1985 and 1991 using questionnaires regarding their diet and cognitive complaints, and those who did not return their questionnaires were contacted by phone. The complaints were assessed using 6 validated standard questions that are indicative of later mild cognitive impairment which could lead to dementia. These questions related to issues with remembering recent events, shopping lists, navigating familiar streets, or understanding spoken instruction and group conversations.
The analysis revealed that 33% of the women reported having more than one of the six cognitive complaints. However, those who adhered more closely to the DASH Diet had a 17% reduction in reporting multiple cognitive complaints. The researchers suggest that additional research is required across multiple racial and ethnic groups to determine generalizability.
“Our data suggest that it is important to start a healthy diet in midlife to prevent cognitive impairment in older age”, said Yixiao Song, a lead author of the study.
“Following the DASH diet may not only prevent high blood pressure, but also cognitive issues,” said Fen Wu, Ph.D., a senior associate research scientist who co-led the study.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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