Results from recent research add to the story
By Austin Perlmutter, MD
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia around the world and rates are increasing dramatically
At this time there are no well-established, evidence-based drugs for reversing Alzheimer's disease
New research finds correlations between specific dietary patterns and Alzheimer's markers in the brain
The Mediterranean and MIND diets remain at top of the list when it comes to dietary research on Alzheimer's prevention
What’s is Alzheimer’s disease, and why care?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia worldwide, affecting tens of millions of people around the world. It’s characterized by memory issues, as well is issues with mood, behavior and language. It’s thought that rates of Alzheimer’s disease are increasing around the world. Alzheimer's disease is a top 10 cause of death and leads to significant collateral damage to the physical and mental health of friends, family and caregivers.
What does diet have to do with Alzheimer’s?
At a basic level, our brains are made up of building blocks that come from our diet. Additionally, diet influences the gut microbiome, the immune system, our metabolic health and other key systems that impact the brain. This doesn't mean, of course, that diet is the sole factor driving risk for disease, but rather that our dietary choices may act on multiple pieces of the larger puzzle of this complex disease.
When it comes to specific diets that may have a positive role in Alzheimer’s disease prevention, researchers have found that the Mediterranean and the MIND diets are at the top of the list. Specifically, these two diets may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, as well as more generally enhancing brain health over the lifespan.
What does new research show?
In a study published in March of 2023, researchers examined the brains of about 600 people who died on average at age 91. These were all people who had completed dietary assessments in the years prior to their death. On reviewing the brains, the scientists looked for markers of Alzheimer’s disease including tau protein tangles, amyloid plaques and associated changes. They then compared these findings to people’s reported diets when they were alive. The researchers concluded that people reporting adherence to a MIND or Mediterranean pattern of eating had less brain markers of Alzheimer’s disease, even after controlling for reported exercise and smoking.
What does this mean?
As of now, there’s no well-established effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Though each year new drugs make waves for their potential to slow or reverse the disease, there’s been little to no real progress on making evidence-based pharmaceuticals available to the public for reversal of this disease. There is some data that lifestyle interventions (mostly exercise) may have benefit in early stages of the diseases, and some very limited data that certain dietary patterns (e.g., keto) may be valuable.
With all this in mind, and with the specter of Alzheimer’s increasingly spreading over an aging population, it’s more important than ever that we do everything we can to help prevent this disease. When it comes to diet, a Mediterranean or MIND pattern (low in ultraprocessed foods, high in minimally processed foods, rich in polyphenols, omega-3 fats as well as vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, Vitamin C, and vitamin E) seems to be the best bet!