Heart-healthy diets associated with better cognitive function
Heart-healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, that are rich in fruits and vegetables, moderate in nuts, fish and alcohol and low in meat and full-fat dairy in early adulthood were linked to better brain function in middle age, according to data published in Neurology.
“Cognitive impairment is associated with increased risk of mortality, disability, and late-life dementia, as well as high health care costs,” Claire T. McEvoy, PhD, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, and colleagues wrote.
“Diet is a modifiable lifelong exposure, yet few studies have examined whether dietary factors in adulthood influence the risk of cognitive impairment,” they added.
McEvoy and colleagues analyzed data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study to determine the effects of heart-healthy diet patterns, including the Mediterranean diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and A Priori Diet Quality Score (APDQS) diet, during early adulthood on cognitive performance at midlife.
A total of 2,621 patients (45% black; 57% women; mean age at baseline, 25 years) were included in the study and followed for 30 years. Participants’ dietary patterns were assessed at baseline, year 7 and year 20 and cognitive function was evaluated at years 25 and 30.
The researchers defined the Mediterranean diet as high intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy unsaturated fats, nuts, legumes and fish and low intake of red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy. The DASH diet was defined as high intake of grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, legumes and nuts and low intake of meat, fish, poultry, total fat, saturated fat, sweets and sodium. The APDQS diet was defined as high intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy, fish and moderate alcohol and low intake of fried foods, salty snacks, sweets, high-fat dairy and sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
Based on how closely participants followed each diet, they were given a low, medium or high adherence score.
There was no association between the DASH diet and change in cognitive performance. However, participants with higher adherence to both the Mediterranean diet and the APDQS diet demonstrated a lower decline in cognitive function and executive function at middle-age.
The odds of poor thinking skills were 46% lower among participants with high adherence to the Mediterranean diet vs. those with low adherence. Additionally, the odds of poor thinking skills were 52% lower among participants with high adherence to the APDQS diet vs. those with low adherence.
The researchers noted that the analysis was adjusted for factors that may affect cognitive function, including level of education, smoking, diabetes and physical activity.
“Our findings indicate that maintaining good dietary practices throughout adulthood can help to preserve brain health at midlife,” McEvoy said in a press release.
She noted that it was unclear why there was no link between the DASH diet and better thinking skills, but speculated that it may be because it does not consider moderate alcohol intake like the other two diets.
“It’s possible that moderate alcohol consumption as part of a healthy diet could be important for brain health in middle age, but further research is needed to confirm these findings,” McEvoy said.
“While we don’t yet know the ideal dietary pattern for brain health, changing to a heart-healthy diet could be a relatively easy and effective way to reduce the risk for developing problems with thinking and memory as we age,” she added. – by Alaina Tedesco
Disclosures: McEvoy reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.