Alzheimer’s and the MIND Diet

Diet…  such a simple word, yet a powerful one; as a verb, to diet, for many, conjures up starving oneself of any and all pleasurable foods and drink.  For others, it is a complicated system of assigning points and measures to every bite taken.  Regardless of the format, most people diet with the intent to lose weight. More recently, however, the “noun” version of the word has taken on more importance in our society than ever before.  Sure, as children we learned about the four basic food groups and the food pyramid, but beyond that, we ate what we wanted and didn’t question much the consequences.  Through advancements in technology our society has started moving at a much faster pace than ever before.  A seemingly endless supply of fast, easy food became available, satisfying our need for immediate gratification.  Decades of fast food, snacks, sodas, sweets, etc… have caught up with us however, and the results aren’t looking so good.  As a matter of fact, they are proving to be quite harmful to our quality of life and even deadly.   Some of the most common diseases and ailments in America, including Alzheimer’s, can be linked to a lifetime of poor eating habits and choices.   Medical News Today (MNT) lists the top 10 causes of death in the US as:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease
  • Stroke
  • Accidents
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Influenza and pneumonia
  • Kidney disease
  • Suicide

As you can see, over half of these relate to diet or at the least, being overweight in general.   For some, the thought of Alzheimer’s disease being related to diet may seem strange.  However, as more studies are showing, overall health and diet play a huge part in how the body functions, including the brain.  For years, we have understood the relationship between diet and heart disease.  More recently, similar links are being discovered between diet and Alzheimer’s.  The brain depends on a healthy blood flow to stay strong and maintain brain cell population.  Therefore, a healthy brain depends on a healthy heart to supply it with blood.  In addition, researchers are finding evidence that the same risk factors that lead to heart disease may also lead to Alzheimer’s.
Some examples include:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Elevated homocysteine levels
  • Poorly controlled diabetes
  • A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables

They go on to state that,

“These risk factors are also linked to vascular dementia, a type of dementia caused by damaged blood vessels in the brain. Working with your health care team on a plan to control these factors will help protect your heart — and may also help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.”

Using this information, experts have been conducting studies on modified “heart healthy” diets and the development of Alzheimer’s. Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a nutritional epidemiologist, along with some colleagues at Rush University Medical Center, did a study using their recently developed the MIND diet, a combination of the popular Mediterranean and DASH diets, and discovered that diet lowered the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 53%. The Mediterranean diet is considered an overall “heart healthy” diet, utilizing the ingredients and cooking techniques associated with its name sake, while DASH, (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was specifically designed to lower blood pressure.
The MIND diet consists of 10 “brain healthy” food groups  and 5 unhealthy groups:

Healthy                                                                Unhealthy
green leafy vegetables                                          red meats
other vegetables                                                    butter and stick margarine
nuts                                                                         cheese
berries                                                                    pastries and sweets
beans                                                                      fried or fast foods
whole grains
olive oil

Morris states,

“Everyone experiences decline with aging; and Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Therefore, prevention of cognitive decline, the defining feature of dementia, is now more important than ever,” She continues by saying that,  “Delaying dementia’s onset by just five years can reduce the cost and prevalence by nearly half.”   

Though not mentioned, another benefit of delaying a possible onset is that a cure or preventative solution may be discovered in the meantime.   Making relatively simple changes in our diets today can have very positive long term effects on our future.  The truth is, on average, Americans are living longer than ever before, which means we need to do what we can to insure those extra years are quality ones. So, listen to your mother and eat your vegetables.

Have you made healthy changes in your diet? What were the results?  Do you have any suggestions or tips for our readers? We welcome all comments.

Natalie Pic

Meet the Author


Natalie has compiled over eighteen years experience providing outstanding care to people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In addition to being a certified Alzheimer’s and dementia care trainer, McFarland is a licensed continued education instructor for nurses and social workers through the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations. She has also developed several Alzheimer’s research partnerships. Included in those projects were Dr. Virginia Cruz, Ph.D., RN, Associate Professor of SIUE and Dr. George Grossberg, M.D., Medical Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Saint Louis University. Natalie is a graduate of Southern Illinois University.