Food to help cognitive decline

by | May 4, 2023 | Food Facts

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Last year, at the age of just 75, my Dad was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia

While his diagnosis was no great surprise- (once the life and soul (and organiser) of countless parties, he’d been retreating for many years, losing his train of thought and confidence in holding a conversation), I wondered if its onset could have been delayed by more attention to diet.

In the UK, Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses are the leading cause of death in women (15.9%) and the second leading cause in men (8.9%). What’s notable about these figures is that while other leading causes of death (heart disease, respiratory illnesses etc) have plateaued or even dropped, deaths through dementia have risen sharply since 2008. It’s the only condition in the top ten causes of death NOT to have a treatment to “prevent, slow or cure its progression”.

But could we prevent it, or at least delay cognitive impairment through diet? Processed food, a diet full of white flour, meat products and sugar causes inflammation. Not just visibly with things like arthritis, but internally, in the brain. Some studies have picked up differences between the gut bacteria in dementia patients and those without cognitive impairment so it does seem like what we eat could have an important impact on our future cognitive function.

A recent article in the New York Times (register for free) talks of recent studies of cognitive function in older adults and how those following a Meditteranean diet (legumes, fish, vegetables, olive oil) had a 30-35% lower risk of cognitive impairment.

Plants, plants, colourful plants, leafy green plants, nuts (esp walnuts) seeds, spices, berries, cruciferous veg (broccoli, cauli sprouts), beans, lentils, wholegrains, less red meat and more fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna). It is no surprise that the Japanese have one of the world’s lowest rates of deaths by dementia- (no coincidence that their obesity rates are also low) their diet is choc-full of soya, pickled fruits, seasonal green and yellow vegetables, lots of fish, but minimal dairy and meat. We NEVER eat enough fish as a family, so here’s a handy list of 31 Mackerel recipes!

I gave my Mum a list of foods that Dad should eat- the red wine and dark chocolate suggestion was predictably well-received while the fermented foods, tofu and leafy greens 6 times a week, less so. But given that I think he’s had the condition for at least 4 years (the average life expectancy after symptoms begin is 5 years) he’s not really declined much. We’re still able to have a laugh and discuss the highs and lows of the SPL (Scottish Premier League), enjoy holidays and drink wine. So far so good.

“If it’s a plant, eat it If it’s made in a plant, don’t”

Have an amazing (and walnut filled) weekend

Jacquie x