Feed your head: mediterranean diet to prevent memory loss


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This past week, my aunt died from dementia — a progressive, degenerative disease. She battled the disease for more than five years, but despite her relatively good health, the condition was relentless. Dementia robbed us of a cherished relative and friend.

Feed your head: mediterranean diet to prevent memory loss

Most of us know someone who has suffered from dementia. Although there is no known cure, a new study offers hope in the way of prevention.

Advanced Societies With Degenerative Diseases Like Dementia
As societies become more developed, they encounter different types of health problems. According to World Health Organization longevity data, people around the globe now live, on average, to age 71 or older. But the average age at death in underdeveloped countries is approximately 35, where people often die from malnutrition and infectious diseases.

As societies begin to improve their nutrition, food availability, and public health services, chronic diseases like high blood pressure increasingly develop. People live longer: to an average of 50 years. Infectious diseases are still a common cause of death, but approximately one-third of these populations now die from heart disease and stroke.

As societies advance, people begin to not only eat more, but also to use tobacco and alcohol. People in advancing societies live even longer — 60 years, on average — but now, nearly two-thirds of them die of heart disease and stroke. As societies continue to evolve and focus on prevention and early treatment of diseases, people live even longer.

In our society, the most common health problems are from progressive degenerative diseases like dementia; mortality is primarily a result of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Of these health problems, one continues to become increasingly more of a problem, and that is dementia. Not only is it common, but in some European countries it has also become a top killer of women.

The Public Health Power of Prevention
We have to be creative and active to tackle the diseases that are causing mortality. In underdeveloped countries, this may mean better access to antibiotics and broader use of vaccinations. In more advanced countries, this may mean campaigns to encourage people to eat less, make healthier choices, and avoid additive and harmful substances. Finally, if we are truly going to reduce the suffering and mortality associated with progressive degenerative diseases, such as dementia and abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation, we have to focus on early prevention.

Although we have treatments for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, influenza, and tetanus, it is much more efficient and safe to prevent them through vaccination. I once treated a patient who developed tetanus after falling while she was crossing railroad tracks. She had not received a tetanus vaccination in more than two decades, and subsequently required weeks of intensive-care treatment, placement on a ventilator, and intravenous medications to stop the repetitive painful muscle spasms of tetanus. All of it could have been prevented if she had gotten a tetanus vaccination before her fall.

Dementia Prevention Through Food Choices
I have written previously about dementia, and how we have to start early in life for prevention. No known medications can stop or reverse dementia, but many medications can improve symptoms and slow disease progression slightly. Unfortunately, however, dementia is a progressive disease that kills.

The basis of a new trial, results for which were published in the July 2015 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), is that in someone with dementia, the brain is critically dependent on an extensive network of arteries, veins, and capillaries. The vessels and the brain tissue itself can be injured by inflammation and oxidative stress.

Our bodies are like machines that take in energy from food sources and combine that with oxygen to make usable fuel. Just like machines, our bodies produce byproducts called free radicals when we make these fuels. Our bodies have systems to remove these free radicals, but when an overabundance of free radicals builds up, oxidative stress causes injury to blood vessels, organs, and tissues.

This raises two questions:

If we improve what goes into our body’s machinery — in other words, our food sources — can we improve what comes out, thereby lowering the amount of free radicals and reducing oxidative stress?
Will exposure to less oxidative stress and fewer free radicals lower risk of dementia?
How Diet Can Reduce Your Risk of Dementia
The research reported in JAMA involved 447 men and women in Spain who were 67 years old, on average. All patients had a series of dementia screens called a neuropsychological test battery. No patients had evidence of dementia when they started the study. All participants in the study were randomized to one of three diets:

A Mediterranean diet plus extra-virgin olive oil
A Mediterranean diet plus nuts
A healthy diet with a reduced amount of dietary fats
A trained dietician used a 137-item food questionnaire to make sure people were sticking to their assigned diets. Nearly all study participants were tested frequently for changes in memory and thinking over a period of approximately four years.

People in all three groups ate the same total number of calories a day: 2100, on average. The energy consumed from fat was slightly lower in those on the Mediterranean diets (approximately 35 percent) compared to the group that tried to reduce dietary fat (approximately 36 percent).

Here is a summary of the study findings about memory and cognition:

Memory was preserved, and slightly improved (4 to 9 percent), in people on Mediterranean diets, compared to those who simply lowered dietary fat. Both Mediterranean diet groups had similar memory function scores at the end of the study.
In the non-Mediterranean diet group, memory function actually declined by 17 percent.
Cognition increased by 5 percent for people who ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented by olive oil, despite the fact that they had aged over the course of the four-year study. In those who ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented by nuts, cognition stayed about the same.
In contrast, for people in the group that simply lowered the fat level in their diets, cognition had declined by 38 percent by the end of the study.
An Optimistic Outlook for Prevention
This study is a cause for optimism. These were not a specially selected study population; they were older patients, and nearly three-quarters of them had high blood pressure, approximately 40 percent had smoked, and another three-quarters had high cholesterol.

First, this study says to me that if you want to prevent dementia, start now. Even if you have developed some risk factors for dementia, like high blood pressure, making healthy life style choices now can pay rewards in as little as four years.

Next, your diet is important, so don’t overlook it. This study highlights the very healthy body benefits of the Mediterranean diet. This diet not only has remarkable health benefits, it is diverse and uses many different food sources, so you can continue to enjoy eating and look forward to meals. You don’t have to search for an exotic diet from a remote region of the world. This is a proven diet that anyone in the United States can follow.

Next, the diet contains many foods that have anti-oxidant properties. It is difficult to replicate these benefits in supplements and pills. It is preferable to choose healthy food sources rather than taking a number of vitamin, mineral, and supplement pills.

Finally, the JAMA study is similar to another study that suggests olive oil consumption may reduce rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. I previously wrote about olive oil and heart health. Olive oil has a robust history of health benefits, and if you are just starting to consider a heart healthy diet, using olive oil is an excellent starting point to a healthier future.

Fuente: www.everydayhealth.com
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