Diet, Exercise May Decrease Risk of Dementia

By Sullivan, Michele G. | Clinical Psychiatry News, August 2009 | Go to article overview

Diet, Exercise May Decrease Risk of Dementia


Sullivan, Michele G., Clinical Psychiatry News


VIENNA -- Diet and exercise appear to exert positive influences, even as people age, in terms of significant reductions in the risk of developing cognitive decline or dementia.

Researchers at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease presented several studies showing that a heart-healthy diet and moderate exercise are associated with lower dementia rates.

"Research continues to show us that there are lifestyle decisions we all can make to keep our brains healthier, and which may also lower our risk of memory decline as we age," William Thies, Ph.D., chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association, which sponsored the meeting, said in a statement.

The diet study, led by Heidi J. Wengreen, Ph.D., of Utah State University, Logan, examined compliance with the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and dementia rates among participants in the Cache County Study on Memory, Health, and Aging. The DASH plan encourages the consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean animal proteins, and limits salt and sweets.

The study group included 3,831 subjects who were at least 65 years old at baseline, said Ronald Munger, Ph.D., the coinvestigator who presented the findings at the meeting.

On a DASH compliance scale of 0-45, the mean score was 27. "Not one of our participants was able to be fully compliant with the diet," said Dr. Munger, also of the university. At baseline, all subjects took the Modified Mini-Mental State (3MS) examination, a global measure of cognition with a maximum score of 100. The test was repeated four times during 11 years of follow-up.

Compared with those in the lowest quintile of diet compliance, those in the highest quintile scored significantly better on the 3MS at baseline (91.38 vs. 90.41) and at 11 years (87.60 vs. 85.81).

The researchers identified four food groups that were independently associated with better 3MS scores: dairy, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and beans. In a second model using just those four food groups, participants in the highest quintile for consumption of those foods scored significantly better than those in the lowest quintile at baseline (91.70 vs. 89.95) and 11 years (88.28 vs. 84.91)). Those in the highest quintile also had the lowest risk for developing dementia, but that finding was significant (hazard ratio, 0.40) only for ApoE4-negative subjects.

Dr. Munger said that the team is doing similar research on the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to a similar reduction in dementia risk. "The goal is not to propose a single dietary pattern for the whole world, but to focus on finding the most effective food groups, which can be incorporated into any diet."

One exercise study, by Deborah E. Barnes, Ph.D., and her colleagues, examined activity levels and brain aging in 3,075 subjects in the Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study. The mean age was 74 years at baseline; 52% were women, and their mean 3MS score was 90. …

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