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Diet for Dementia Prevention: The Best Foods to Protect Your Brain Health

Most people think of dementia as something age-related. And the elderly do make up the highest percentage of those with dementia. But there are also many other factors that affect your risk for dementia, and not all of them are inevitable. In fact, recent literature suggests that you can reduce your risk of this health condition by eating a diet for dementia prevention.

What Is Dementia?

An image of an older couple making a salad togetherAlthough Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common causes of dementia, dementia itself is not the same as Alzheimer's. It is not a specific disease. Rather, it is a broad term used to include a variety of symptoms relating to cognitive decline. These symptoms result from abnormal changes in your brain and may impair your quality of life and ability to function independently. It may also affect your behavior, relationships, and ways in which you express your feelings.

Alzheimer’s accounts for up to 80% of dementia cases. Microscopic bleeding and blood vessel blockage in the brain comes in as the second most common cause. This latter type of dementia is known as vascular dementia. Dementia can also happen due to a combination of these two causes as well as other conditions. In this case, it would be called mixed dementia.

Dementia symptoms are often irreversible, but there are exceptions to the rule. When the symptoms arise due to vitamin deficiencies, the use of certain medications, depression, or thyroid issues, it's possible to recover more brain function. By addressing these issues, it's possible to improve your symptoms dramatically.

Common Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia symptoms vary greatly. One person need not have the same symptoms as another. It is also not necessary to have all the symptoms.

Among the most common symptoms of dementia are:

  • Loss of memory
  • Confusion
  • Poor judgment
  • Getting lost or wandering off even in a known neighborhood
  • Difficulty in speaking coherently
  • Difficulty in expressing thoughts
  • Often repeating questions
  • Increasing difficulty in reading and writing
  • Hallucinating
  • Paranoia
  • Using strange words when referring to a familiar object
  • Increased difficulty in handling financial issues or transactions
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Developing a disregard for the feelings of others
  • Balance or movement issues
  • An inability to complete normal tasks
  • Losing interest in daily activities

Stress and Inflammation

A major risk factor for dementia may be stress and inflammation. They cause stress in the body, and the response is often chronic inflammation. The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response is the body's global response to stress and is composed of six circuits of organs and systems that work together to handle stress. The brain, together with the autonomic nervous system and microbiome, make up the Neuroaffect Circuit of the NEM.

With any kind of stress, one of the body’s first reactions is inflammation. Inflammation is your immune system's response to toxins, damage, and foreign pathogens. It's a healthy response, but when your body cannot remove or heal the stressor, the inflammation goes on too long and can cause damage itself. This may not only increase inflammation but result in a variety of inflammatory conditions. Cardiovascular conditions are a good example of this, as is type-2 diabetes. Do note that these conditions are also related to the onset of dementia. Chronic stress and inflammation can also lead to adrenal fatigue, which can also lead to an increased risk of dementia.

Furthermore, a continued NEM stress response also affects brain chemical composition in the long term. When the Neuroaffect circuit becomes dysfunctional, you may see the development of various conditions relating to brain health. These include sleep issues, anxiety, depression, and neurodegeneration, amongst others. Neural dysfunction is common in those with dementia.

A diet for dementia prevention could help lessen this kind of inflammation.

What to Include In a Diet for Dementia Prevention

Studies show that certain compounds in the foods we eat may help fight inflammation, promote brain health, and slow or help prevent the onset of dementia.

B Vitamins

An image of vitamin B rich foodsMany people with dementia have deficiencies in certain B vitamins, like vitamin B6, vitamin B9 (folic acid), and vitamin B12. Research also suggests lower B vitamin levels may be a key factor in cases of chronic inflammation. The best way to see whether you have nutritional deficiencies is to test for them. Ask your provider about nutrient testing.

Before grabbing a supplement, however, do take note that overly elevated levels of these vitamins may also increase your risk for other health issues. Supplements can also lead to paradoxical reactions. Here, relying on a diet for dementia prevention may be the best solution.

Good sources of these vitamins include:

  • Vitamin B3: Dairy products, lean beef, poultry, fish, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and avocados.
  • Folic acid: Leafy green vegetables, e.g., kale, cabbage, spinach, legumes, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.
  • Vitamin B12: Lean beef, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese.

Antioxidants

Another problem is that many people often do not eat enough foods containing antioxidants. Antioxidants help fight free radicals. Free radicals cause inflammation in your body through cellular damage.

Good antioxidant food choices include:

  • Vitamin E: Although this fat-soluble vitamin has several forms, the only one the human body can use is alpha-tocopherol. Good food sources include pumpkin, almonds, peanuts and peanut butter, wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, red bell pepper, and green leafy vegetables like collard greens and spinach.
  • Vitamin C: Any citrus fruit like oranges and lemons as well as their juice, strawberries, blackcurrants, brussels sprouts, potatoes, peppers, and broccoli.
  • Selenium: Good sources include red meat, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, and whole grains.
  • Carotenoids: Papaya, pumpkin, tangerines, tomatoes, winter squash, carrots, and cantaloupe.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Another point to consider when it comes to diet is omega-3 fatty acids. These play an important role in reducing inflammation both in the body and in the brain. They are commonly found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel. These long-chain polyunsaturated fats play a significant role in brain cell structure and function. Literature suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help preserve proper cognitive function later in life.

Specific Diets for Dementia Prevention

Three diets are especially good for reducing your dementia risk, according to various literature.

The Mediterranean Diet for Dementia Prevention

Studies suggest the Mediterranean diet may reduce your risk of developing dementia and the accompanying loss of memory. Furthermore, this diet also benefits heart health and aids in weight loss.

The reason this diet for dementia prevention may work so well is that it lowers the levels of two proteins linked to dementia. Amyloid protein promotes the buildup of plaque in your brain, while tau protein in those with Alzheimer’s tends to have abnormal folds and shapes. People with healthy brains also have these proteins, although their amyloid levels are lower, and their tau proteins are not misshapen.

The Mediterranean diet is low in dairy and red meat and high in unsaturated fats, fruits, and vegetables. Good sources of unsaturated fats include avocados, nuts like hazelnuts, pecans, and almonds, seeds like sesame and pumpkin seeds, olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil.

This diet, considered one of the healthiest in the world, is not only hailed as a diet for dementia prevention but is also one of the best anti-inflammatory diets around. It is also excellent for health issues associated with chronic inflammation like arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.

The DASH Diet for Dementia Prevention

An image of an older couple eatingDietary approaches to stop hypertension, also known as the DASH diet, although not specifically a diet for dementia prevention, does help address high blood pressure. High blood pressure, as mentioned, increases your risk of heart disease as well as dementia.

Low in added sugars, fats, and red meat, the diet emphasizes incorporating fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean protein like beans, fish, and chicken in your diet.

The MIND Diet for Dementia Prevention

The term ‘MIND’ is an acronym derived from a diet called the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The Mediterranean diet with a twist, it incorporates certain elements of the DASH diet as well.

The core ingredients of this diet include:

  • Plenty of leafy green vegetables
  • A large variety of other vegetables
  • Various berries
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts
  • And one glass of wine a day

This easy-to-follow diet also has many benefits, according to various literature. It does, however, limit your servings of various foods like dairy products, red meat, and sweets.

According to various literature, this diet may:

  • Reduce your risk of developing cognitive problems
  • Reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease
  • Increase glucose metabolism
  • Reduce your beta-amyloid protein levels
  • Help thicken your cortical brain region and thus help prevent cognitive decline

In Closing

We cannot dismiss the fact that what we eat may affect our brain health – for better or worse. Sticking to a varied, nutritious diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and unsaturated fats helps supply your body – and brain – with the nutrients needed to function optimally. It is never too late to start making changes.

To reduce your dementia risk, here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Determine whether a genetic factor is involved.
  • Explore the Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND diets.
  • Do not use supplements to try and address the situation unless you discuss it with your healthcare provider first.

If you would like to know more about choosing a diet for dementia prevention, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can help. We offer a free** no-obligation phone consultation at +1 (626) 571-1234 where we will privately discuss your symptoms and various options. You can also send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2022 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

A diet for dementia would not only benefit your mental health and wellbeing, but your adrenal health as well. This is because it could promote heart health and fight inflammation. These factors often affect your adrenal health as well.

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