Eating a healthy diet may help protect against dementia as people age, according to a new study.
Researchers from the National Research Council in Milan, Italy studied more than 1,600 men and women over age 70. Participants were questioned about the types of food they ate and took a test to determine their level of mental function. Researchers then evaluated the diets of the individuals and separated them into groups based on mental function.
After evaluating the data, researchers found that a balanced diet with low levels of saturated fat and cholesterol is linked with a lower risk of mental decline. While they are unsure how a healthy diet protects from mental decline, researchers hypothesize antioxidants play a key role. Potent antioxidants such as vitamins C and E are crucial in clearing up free radicals from the body. Researchers say studies also show omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful. Previous studies have shown the ability of omega-3 fatty acids to protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
In the current study, researchers also found moderate alcohol intake to be associated with better mental function. Researchers say while it may be that moderate drinking habits and good health generally go together, other research that shows moderate alcohol intake is associated with reduced risk of stroke may also mean it has a positive benefit on cognitive capabilities.
Dementia can occur at any age but is more common after age 65. Researchers emphasize dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. According to the San Francisco Alzheimer’s and Dementia Clinic, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. It typically occurs after 65 years of age and affects 4 million adults. Alzheimer’s Disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. From onset until death, the disease generally lasts from 3 to 18 years.
SOURCE: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001;55:1053-1058