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Are there foods I can eat to help prevent Alzheimer's?

Researchers have long explored whether diet may preserve cognitive function or reduce the risk for Alzheimer's disease (AD). Studies show that specific foods that are rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can affect age-related changes in the brain.

Curcumin, the main ingredient of turmeric, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of healthy omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, both reduce beta amyloid and plaques found in the brain. Mounting research evidence has noted the positive effect of the Mediterranean diet to cognitive function. The Mediterranean diet, with fruits, vegetables, small amounts of dairy, fish and poultry and red meat, has been shown to reduce the risk of AD.

Most recently, the MIND diet, a diet that combines two popular diets -- the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet -- has been shown to delay the risk of developing dementia. What makes the MIND diet so special? It specifically includes foods and nutrients that research shows to be good for the brain, such as berries. Clinical trials are underway to confirm these findings and explore the relationships of various specific dietary components and their effects on cognitive decline and AD.
Zaldy S. Tan, MD
Geriatric Medicine

Studies have shown an association between certain types of food and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Types of food include:

  • Foods rich in antioxidants, fish and low in fats
  • Foods based on the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables , olive oil, whole grains and fish and low in red meats and processed foods

However, not all studies have consistently shown that these diets are associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The challenge with these diet studies is that they rely on individuals to remember their intake of certain foods. Studies that rely on personal memory and recall are often unreliable. It is more reliable to investigate the amounts of specific nutrients in a person’s blood. A recent study found that people with lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fishes) performed worse on cognitive performance and had lower brain mass.

It’s difficult to say with certainty that specific foods can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is safe to say that maintaining a heart-healthy diet has a good chance of benefiting your brain by decreasing your risk of strokes and possibly dementia as well.

Neal D. Barnard, MD
Psychiatry

There are four food groups that are key to preventing Alzheimer's disease and memory loss: fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes and whole grains. In this video, Neal Barnard, MD, discusses how these food groups work to fight brain aging.


Some research suggests that a diet low in saturated and trans fats, and high in healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, decreases risk for Alzheimer's disease. Saturated fats come mainly from meat and dairy; trans fats are found in processed foods made with partially hydrogenated oils. Nuts, olive oil, canola oil, and fish are sources of healthful fats.

What's more, fish rich in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, have been singled out as beneficial in several studies. A neurology study found that people who ate fatty fish more than twice weekly lowered their risks for dementia and Alzheimer's by 28% and 41%, respectively, compared with people who ate it less than once a month. Whether fish oil capsules will do the same is not yet known, though a study tracking this is under way. Meanwhile, replacing unhealthy fats with healthful fats won't hurt your brain, and it should help your heart.
Gary Small, MD
Psychiatry

Neuroscientist and Alzheimer's disease expert Dr. Gary Small discusses whether or not there are any foods that can help fight Alzheimer's disease. Watch Dr. Small's video for important tips and information about brain health.


Neurologist and functional medicine expert Dr. David Perlmutter discusses the foods that can help fight Alzheimer's disease. Watch Dr. Perlmutter's video for important tips and information about the health of your brain.


Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Turmeric is a spice that may help prevent the development of Alzheimer's disease. Watch the video to learn more about "the spice of life."



Gary Wenk
Psychology

Yes, there are foods that clearly slow the onset of Alzheimer's disease and also foods that place you at greater risk. The most recent evidence, July 2011, suggests that eating fish or consuming foods containing flavonoids, e.g. chocolate, coffee, tea, (you can find a list of other foods on the web) do reduce the risk of getting AD. Anything you can do to raise your HDL, good cholesterol, is also helpful. This would include taking certain statin drugs and also consuming small quantities of alcohol daily (small!). What foods do not help? Vitamins E & C, Omega-3 supplements and absolutely anything that comes from a cow or pig. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.