The number of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is expected to rise at an alarming rate. Currently the World Health Organisation (WHO) believes there are 50 million people around the world with dementia. But this number is expected to triple in the next thirty years.
Yet scientists believe that we can reduce our risk of developing cognitive decline and dementia, and the WHO began a Global Action Plan in 2017, gathering the evidence needed. The WHO published new guidelines this week intended to provide the knowledge needed by healthcare providers and others, to help people reduce their risk of cognitive decline and dementia. It may not come as a surprise that these guidelines favour dietary and lifestyle changes over supplements such as multivitamins. Though vitamins of course have their uses, there is a much wider range of nutrients in wholefoods.
According to the WHO guidelines, the recommended lifestyle choices that may keep your brain healthy are similar to those recommended to keep your heart healthy. Stop smoking, do regular physical activity, eat a healthy, balanced diet such as the Mediterranean diet and avoid harmful levels of alcohol. While other activities identified as potentially helpful but as yet without adequate evidence included maintaining a healthy weight; management of conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes; being involved in social activities; and brain training exercises.
The Mediterranean diet has often been suggested to be the most healthy way of eating. It features plenty of vegetables, some fruit, healthy fats from fish, nuts and olive oil, poultry, legumes, wholegrains and a small amount of red meat and full fat dairy.
It is also worth noting that other traditional diets from around the world may be beneficial and reduce dementia risk. In fact, in studies a Japanese type diet has been associated with a lower incidence of dementia. In a large study of thousands of elderly Japanese, their traditional diet was associated with protection from dementia. Researchers also commented that the Japanese diet had many characteristics in common with a Mediterranean style diet. For instance, high intakes of vegetables, fruit, legumes and fish, and low in meat and dairy.
This Japanese study, the Ohsaki Cohort 2006 Study, went even further and looked at individual parts of the diet in relation to dementia risk, with some interesting results. Increased consumption of mushrooms, citrus fruits, green tea and coffee were all associated with reductions in risk of developing dementia.
In fact, this finding that eating mushrooms is associated with better cognition and memory is not alone. Researchers have speculated that the beneficial effect of mushrooms may be due to their antioxidant or anti-inflammatory effects, that might protect against diseases that increase the risk of dementia, such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and diabetes. Furthermore, findings from another study published in 2019 suggests that eating more than two servings of mushrooms per week, reduces the risk of developing cognitive decline by around half, when compared to eating mushrooms less than once per week.
This is likely to be an intensive area of research in the future and so we might hope to learn more about the individual foods and drinks that may potentially provide protection against dementia.