You Are What You Eat – And That Includes Your Brain

You Are What You Eat – And That Includes Your Brain

By David W. Hart, Ph.D.


Did you know that epidemiologists who study the effects of diet on longevity have described ours as the Standard American Diet, otherwise known as the SAD diet?  The acronym alone might tell you everything you need to know about the negative health outcomes related to Americans’ typical food regimen.  It’s no secret that eating processed foods, sugary drinks, sweets, an overabundance of red meat and dairy, and limiting intake of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals may increase an individual’s risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.  But did you know that what you eat is also significantly correlated to cognitive impairment that may be symptomatic of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or another dementia?


Researchers have identified patterns in the results of studies on longevity: metabolic health, most commonly controlled by diet and exercise, has a significant effect on the incidence and prevalence of AD.  A seminal study published in JAMA Neurology found that older adults with a history of diabetes were 65% more likely to develop AD (Arvanitakis et al., 2004).  Another study on the correlation between diabetes and brain function found that women who had type II diabetes had poorer cognition (Logroscino et al., 2004).  Obesity has also been identified as a significant and independent risk factor for AD (Profenno et al., 2010) and midlife obesity, defined as having a body mass index greater than 30 and midlife, increased risk for AD by up to 74% (Gustafson et al., 2003). Additionally, higher rates of unhealthy cholesterol (LDL) in coupled with marked hypertension were also associated with an increased risk for AD by 2.8 times. When it comes to overall brain health, the old saying you are what you eat has never been more relevant.


We know that AD is reaching epidemic proportions with the number of Americans diagnosed with the disease expected to reach nearly 16 million by 2050.  Sadly, a cure is nowhere in sight and identifying specific lifestyle strategies shown to potentially lower risk for AD is critical.  The good news: we know what to do. The not so good news: we may not be motivated to do it.  Let’s change that!


Certain dietary practices have been found to significantly reduce risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

The Mediterranean Diet is consistently linked to lower rates of AD.  Of the five countries with the longest average life expectancies, all have diets composed primarily of whole foods, grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish – the hallmarks of a Mediterranean style diet.  Interestingly, residents of Japan have a lower rate of AD than Americans; however, Japanese Americans have a higher rate than those living in Japan.  Can you guess the primary contributing factor in the discrepancy between the two populations?  That’s right! It’s partially diet!


Researchers at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging found that seniors 65-94 who ate fish high in omega-3 fatty acids at least once weekly were at 60% less risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease than those who ate fish rarely or never.  In another study, conducted by the Departments of Medicine and Neurology at UCLA, curcumin, the active ingredient in the curry spice turmeric, was shown to prevent formation of amyloid plaques, one of the hallmark neuropathological changes in Alzheimer’s disease.  Finally, as published in the Annals of Neurology, when dietary habits of 2,258 elderly men in New York were followed across four years, researchers found that the rate of Alzheimer’s disease among those seniors who adhered most strictly to the Mediterranean diet was 40% lower than among those didn’t follow diet.

To learn more about the science and practice of a brain healthy lifestyle, please join the South Bay Dementia Education Consortium for a free workshop facilitated by Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai – the Directors of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center and the authors of The Alzheimer’s Solution: A Breakthrough Program to Prevent and Reverse the Symptoms of Cognitive Decline at Every Age.  The workshop is scheduled for Tuesday, February 12th at the Redondo Beach Main Library from 5:30p – 7:30p.  To RSVP, please call (310) 374-3426 ext. 256.


Lastly, if you’d like to join me for my monthly “Aging Matters” series, our next session is on Tuesday, February 5th from noon-1:30p.  We will continue our discussion on how to effectively adapt to the frequent changes that come with age by tapping into the wisdom of resiliency.  To RSVP, you can email me at [email protected].


In the meantime, be well.

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