Doctors have been saying for years that what you eat can affect the health of your heart. Now there's growing evidence that the same is true for your brain.
A new study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago shows a diet plan they developed -- appropriately called the MIND diet -- may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by as much as 53 percent.
Even those who didn't stick to the diet perfectly but followed it "moderately well" reduced their risk of Alzheimer's by about a third.
Diet appears to be just one of "many factors that play into who gets the disease," said nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, PhD, the lead author of the MIND diet study. Genetics and other factors like smoking, exercise and education also play a role. But the MIND diet helped slow the rate of cognitive decline and protect against Alzheimer's regardless of other risk factors.
The study, published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, looked at more than 900 people between the ages of 58 and 98 who filled out food questionnaires and underwent repeated neurological testing. It found participants whose diets most closely followed the MIND recommendations had a level of cognitive function the equivalent of a person 7.5 years younger.
The MIND diet breaks its recommendations down into 10 "brain healthy food groups" a person should eat and five "unhealthy food groups" to avoid.
It combines many elements of two other popular nutrition plans which have been proven to benefit heart health: the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. (MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.)
But the MIND diet also differs from those plans in a few significant ways and proved more effective than either of them at reducing the risk of Alzheimer's.