Forgetting little details in your life might seem like a mere inconvenience, but it can quickly transform into a scary experience as you get older. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are common, and they both seem like conditions that you can’t control. However, you may have more power over your cognitive health than you think. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet may significantly lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, new research shows.
According to a study published in Neurology, diet plays a huge role in your brain health. Some foods increase inflammation and contribute to brain aging, while others fight inflammation and encourage sharp memory and focus. To better explore this concept, researchers from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece tested their theory on members of the Greek population.
Testing the Anti-Inflammatory Diet in the Population
For their investigation, the researchers analyzed data from the Hellenic Longitudinal Investigation of Aging and Diet (HELIAD). The HELIAD is a large, ongoing study in Greece that examines the cognitive health of the Greek population. One of its main purposes is to estimate the prevalence and incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
In the Neurology study, researchers randomly sampled participants from the HELIAD and tracked their cognitive health for a little over three years. Each month, the participants answered a food frequency questionnaire which asked how much dairy, cereal, fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish they had eaten in the previous month. The questionnaire also tracked intake of fats, sweets, alcoholic beverages, and stimulants.
Based on this information, the researchers placed each person into one of three groups: those who ate low-inflammation diets, medium inflammation diets, or high inflammation diets. But how did the team know which foods caused inflammation? Previous research states that certain foods, like processed snacks, increase pro-inflammatory molecules in the bloodstream. Foods high in antioxidants increase anti-inflammatory molecules in the bloodstream.
Participants who ate low-inflammatory diets consumed, on average, 20 servings of fruit, 19 of vegetables, four of legumes, and 11 of coffee or tea per week. In contrast, those who ate high-inflammatory diets consumed about nine servings of fruit, 10 of vegetables, two of legumes, and nine of coffee or tea.
During the study, 62 people (six percent of the participants) developed dementia. The researchers examined the diets of these participants and made an interesting discovery. People who ate the most inflammatory diets were three times as likely to develop dementia as those who ate the least inflammatory diets.
The Relationship Between Inflammation and Dementia
The researchers acknowledged that their study did not prove that an anti-inflammatory diet prevents dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, it showed good evidence that inflammatory foods may increase a person’s risk for brain aging.
Why might certain diets damage brain health? Research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture states that eating in general causes oxidative stress. Digestion naturally creates free radicals, or highly reactive molecules that damage cells and other molecules in the body. That includes neurons, or brain cells. However, foods rich in antioxidants can fight oxidative stress. Those include fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, coffee, and tea.
So, what’s the magic amount of antioxidant-rich food that will reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s? While the low-inflammatory diet from the study might sound daunting at first, it helps to break it down. Each day of the week, try to eat 2 ½ to 3 servings of fruit and 2 ½ to 3 servings of vegetables. If you ate three servings of each, that’s the equivalent of:
- One medium orange.
- ½ cup of grapes.
- One medium, ripe banana.
- Two cups of mesclun greens.
- 12 baby carrots.
- One cup of raw or cooked broccoli.
In addition, try to eat a serving of beans or legumes four days out of the week, and one to two cups of coffee or tea daily. If you slowly replace processed foods with these snacks and sides, you’ll be on your way to a low-inflammatory diet before you know it.