Dementia: The breakfast habit associated with a ‘4 times’ higher risk of brain decline

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Dementia – a general term for symptoms associated with progressive brain decline – is a common affliction among the elderly. However, it is not a natural result of the ageing process – this is a key insight because suggests there are ways to modify your risk. Over the years researchers have turned their focus to lifestyle factors that are associated with the risk of dementia.

A curious insight came out of a 2011 study published in the Japanese Journal of Human Sciences of Health-Social Services.

The purpose of the study was to explore the relationship between lifestyle habits and dementia among community dwelling older adults by conducting a cohort study.

The study, conducted over six years, was carried out in a farming community near a major urban centre in Japan.

The participants consisted of 525 elderly adults aged 65 years or older.

After adjusting for sex and age, researchers found a diagnosis of dementia was “four times higher among participants who did not take breakfast”.

They also found a a diagnosis of dementia was 2.7 times higher among participants who did snack, 2.5 times higher among participants who did not care for salt consumption and 2.7 times higher among participants who did not care for nutrient balance.

The researchers concluded: “According to our results, several lifestyle habits were associated with dementia.”

“Appropriate interventions are required for high-risk individuals, including those with mild cognitive impairment.”

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It’s important to note that study was limited to a specific cohort and further investigations must be conducted to draw more definitive conclusions.

What to eat

There’s some evidence that a heart-healthy diet could reduce your risk of developing dementia.

“Having heart or circulatory disease can raise your risk of dementia, so it makes sense to look after both your heart and your brain,” explains the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet was created by researchers at Rush University in Chicago, to help prevent dementia and slow age-related loss of brain function.

It’s a combination of two diets already known to reduce risk of heart and circulatory disease:

The Mediterranean diet (based on wholegrains, fish, pulses, fruits and vegetables)

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The DASH diet is designed to control blood pressure – a risk factor for heart and circulatory diseases and dementia. It’s similar to the Mediterranean diet, but with a greater emphasis on reducing your salt intake.

“Both diets are backed by lots of research showing they can help your heart health, and some evidence to suggest they can contribute to lower levels of mental decline,” says the BHF.

The MIND diet names 10 foods linked to improved, or delayed decline in, cognitive function, and five foods to limit.

Foods to eat regularly to boost your brain include:

  • Wholegrains (three or more servings a day)
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, cabbage, spring greens, kale and salad leaves (one or more servings a day)
  • Other vegetables (one or more servings a day)
  • Nuts (on most days)
  • Beans and lentils (three or more servings a week)
  • Berries, including blueberries and strawberries (two or more servings a week)
  • Chicken or turkey (two or more servings a week)
  • Fish (one or more servings a week)
  • Olive oil (as the main oil or fat you use)
  • Wine (no more than one small glass a day – more than this and it becomes more likely to harm health than help it).

Five foods to avoid or limit to help your brain include:

  • Fried or fast food (less than once a week)
  • Cheese (less than once a week)
  • Red meats (less than four times a week)
  • Pastries and sweets (less than five times a week)
  • Butter (less than one tablespoon a day.

“These recommendations are more specific than usual healthy eating guidance,” notes the BHF.

Dementia – symptoms to spot

Dementia symptoms may include problems with memory loss, thinking speed and mental sharpness and quickness, says the NHS.

“People with dementia can lose interest in their usual activities, and may have problems managing their behaviour or emotions.”

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