Dementia is a devastating condition that is becoming increasingly problematic as size of the elderly population grows. Over the next 3 decades, cases are expected to triple. Unlike many other age-related diseases, dementia is still not well understood by physicians, and treatments are still largely ineffective. Aggressive research efforts therefore aim to determine ways to reduce the risk of developing dementia as well as ways to delay its onset and slow its progression.
Diet is one area that has received a lot of attention as a potential factor impacting dementia risk. As it is known that the Mediterranean diet has other health benefits, it has been suggested that the diet, which consists of large amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, fish and olive oil, may also have a protective effect with respect to dementia.
A new study, published in Neurology, has examined how dietary habits of those in midlife affect risk of dementia over the following 20 years. The researchers examined data from approximately 28,000 people from Sweden – 61% of whom were woman and whose average age was 58 at the start of the study. These participants did not have a dementia diagnosis at the start of the study, though by the end of the study, nearly 7% had been diagnosed with a form of dementia.
During the study, participants tracked their food with a food diary and completed questionnaires and interviews. The researchers used this data to determine how closely aligned participants’ diets were with the Mediterranean diet to determine if such a diet conferred any protection against dementia. They were also able to track whether following general diet recommendations helped to stave off dementia.
The results of the study demonstrated that neither following conventional dietary recommendations nor following a Mediterranean diet lowered the risk of developing dementia. In addition, diet did not seem to have any influence of the accumulation of amyloid-beta, the protein that characterizes Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
These data are in conflict with results from other studies that suggest a link between diet and dementia risk. While this study suggests that diet does not influence the risk of dementia, it is important to note that dietary data comes from self-reports and is thus subject to misreporting and misremembering of critical data. More research into the potential relationship between food and dementia is needed before we can draw conclusions about whether what we eat affects our likelihood of developing this neurodegenerative condition.
Glans I, Sonestedt E, Nägga K, et al. Association Between Dietary Habits in Midlife With Dementia Incidence Over a 20-Year Period. Neurology. 2022;12:10.1212/WNL.0000000000201336. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000201336