Healthy diet may prevent dementia in later years

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veggiesLooks like your mother knew what she was talking about when she told you to eat your vegetables. According to a recent study published at the University of Eastern Finland, developing a habit of eating fruits and vegetables can pay dividends in later years. The results of the study showed that those who ate the healthiest diet at an average age of 50 years had an almost 90 percent lower risk in a 14-year follow up study than those whose diet was less healthy. The study was the first in the world to investigate the relationship between a healthy diet in midlife and the risk of developing dementia later on.

The researchers assessed the link between diet and dementia using a healthy diet index based on the consumption of a variety of foods. The “healthy” diet included vegetables, berries, fruits, fish, and unsaturated fats from milk products. The “unhealthy” diet included sausages, eggs, sweets, sugary drinks, salty fish and saturated fats from milk products and spreads.

Links between diet and dementia have been studied in the past. However, previous studies have focused mainly on the impact of single dietary components on the development of dementia. “But nobody’s diet is based on one single food, and there may be interactions between nutrients, so it makes more sense to look at the entire dietary pattern,” says Ms Marjo Eskelinen, MSc, who presented the results of the recent study in her doctoral thesis in the field of neurology.

In addition to the link between diet and dementia, the study also looked at the impact of higher intake of saturated fats on cognitive functions and increased risk of dementia. A high intake of saturated fats was linked to poorer cognitive and memory functions and to an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment in a 21-year follow-up. Higher saturated fat intake was also associated with an increased risk of dementia among those with a genetic risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease, the epsilon 4 variant of the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene.

“Even those who are genetically susceptible can at least delay the onset of the disease by favoring vegetable oils, oil-based spreads and fatty fish in their diet,” Ms Eskelinen says.

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