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. The WHO began a Global Action Plan in 2017, gathering the evidence. Their new guidelines this week help to provide the knowledge we need. It may help people to reduce their risk of developing cognitive decline and dementia.
The WHO favour dietary and lifestyle changes
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 whole foods.
According to the WHO guidelines, having a certain lifestyle may help to keep your brain healthy. The recommendations are similar to those that keep your heart healthy. Stop smoking, do regular physical activity, eat a healthy, balanced diet such as the Mediterranean diet. Avoiding harmful levels of alcohol is also a good idea.
They also identify some other potentially helpful activities. Though these don’t have the same level of evidence. These other measures are: maintaining a healthy weight; management of conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes; taking part in social activities; and brain training exercises.
The most healthy diet
The Mediterranean diet is most likely the healthiest way of eating. It features plenty of vegetables, some fruit, healthy fats from fish, nuts and olive oil, poultry and legumes. With some whole grains 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 most likely they reduce dementia risk. In fact, in studies, a Japanese type diet lowers the incidence of dementia. In a large study of thousands of elderly Japanese, their traditional diet provides protection from dementia. What’s more, 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.
Diet and dementia
This Japanese study, the Ohsaki Cohort 2006 Study, went even further. By looking at individual parts of the diet in relation to dementia risk. This study has some interesting results. Higher consumption of mushrooms, citrus fruits, green tea and coffee all reduce the 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.