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The Impact of Nutrition on Dementia and Alzheimer's

Medically reviewed by

Written by Shloka Sucharita

Adopting healthy habits can enhance brain health and potentially delay the onset of dementia. While there is no cure currently, proactive steps can pave the way for a healthier future. A healthy and nutritional diet is fundamental to healthy living, which reduces the harms of various diseases that can lead to dementia, like obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. There is no proven dementia diet available for people affected by the disease, but healthy eating patterns can help lead a healthy life.

The Science Behind Nutrition and Dementia 

Science suggests that specific dietary intakes can increase or decrease the risk factor for the progression of dementia. Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals found in various fruits and vegetables have been associated with preventing the onset of dementia. The relationship between dementia and nutrition is crucial to understand, as it will help draft a strategic diet for the prevention of dementia and also to maintain a dementia patient's overall well-being. 

Key nutrients and their impact on brain health

Nutritional factors have a great potential to impact various brain functions, like the regulation of neurotransmitter pathways, synaptic transmission, membrane fluidity, and signal transduction pathways. Certain key nutrients are believed to have an impact on cognitive health.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Science has shown that omega-3 fatty acids show improvement in cognitive health in the elderly. It also acts as the basis for treatment for patients with mood disorders. 
  • Flavonoids: This nutrient found in green tea, cocoa, citrus fruit, etc, shows improvement in cognitive functions in the elderly.
  • Saturated Fat: the presence of saturated fat in butter, ghee, lard, oil, cream, cheese, etc, shows a declining effect on overall cognitive health in aging humans.
  • B vitamins: Supplementation of vitamin B6 and B12, or folate, in regular dietary intake positively impacts memory performance in women of various age groups.
  • Vitamin D: It plays an important role in maintaining cognitive functions in the elderly. 
  • Vitamin E:  Helps reduce cognitive decay in older people.  
  • Choline: Literature reveals evidence of a causal relationship between dietary choline and cognitive health in humans.
  • Calcium: Older people show faster cognitive decline because of high serum calcium intake.
  • Zinc: Reduced intake of zinc helps reduce cognitive decay. 
  • Selenium: A low selenium level is associated with lower cognitive function.
  • Copper: low plasma concentrations of copper correlate with cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients. 
  • Iron: iron treatment is important for young women to normalize cognitive functions.

Understanding the risk factors and prevention strategies 

There is no definitive answer as to whether certain nutrients prevent or support the onset of dementia.

  • Nutrients: Consumption of saturated and trans fats in the diet contributes to elevated cognitive decline and increases the likelihood of developing dementia. Excessive intake of iron, copper, synthetic folate, and folic acid has indicated harmful effects on individuals. Include foods in the diet, like green leafy vegetables, seafood, and berries, which have neuroprotective effects.
  • Diet Patterns: Following a Westernized diet shows a faster decline in cognitive health; a prudent diet is also found to be inconsistent. Investigative research on the MIND diet has shown protective effects against dementia.

Dietary Patterns And Their Influence On Alzheimer’s and Dementia

There is a possibility that eating a certain diet affects biological mechanisms that underlie Alzheimer's; it may protect the brain through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties or improve cellular metabolism, which protects against the disease. More research is required before healthy eating patterns can be associated with cognitive benefits to conclude if eating healthy can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s or cognitive decline in the elderly. Alzheimer’s and nutrition research have a long way to go.

The Mediterranean and MIND diet: A closer look 

The Mediterranean and MIND (Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay) diet prioritizes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish and other seafood, and unsaturated fats. The intake of red meat, eggs, and sweets is reduced. The MIND diet is a blend of the Mediterranean and DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diets, which helps maintain high blood pressure and lowers the risk of dementia.

More studies and clinical trials have been conducted to find the connection between Alzheimer's and nutrition. Observational studies have shown many findings about a lower risk of Alzheimer's in people who follow the MIND diet. Brain autopsies showed that adults who followed the MIND diet showed fewer traces of Alzheimer’s pathogens and had thicker cortical brain regions than others, which shrunk in dementia patients. Higher levels of beta-amyloid protein and lower glucose metabolism, with a 53% reduced rate of Alzheimer's, were seen in people who closely followed the diet.

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Foods to embrace and avoid for cognitive health

Blueberries, leafy vegetables, and turmeric have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that benefit cognitive health. A study has shown green tea can break the protein tau, which builds in the brain due to Alzheimer’s. The daily intake of leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and fish can be effective in reducing age-related cognitive degeneration. 

Consumption of too much salt increases the protein tau and causes cognitive impairment. Unsaturated fats, red meats, and alcohol show a definitive decline in brain health. 

Over-the-counter vitamins and supplements like vitamins E and Gingko biloba are speculated to attack inflammation and protect nerve cells, which may help prevent dementia.

Practical Nutrition Tips for Dementia and Alzheimer's Care

During the middle and later stages of Alzheimer's, keeping up a nutritional diet is difficult, as they may forget to eat or drink. 

  • Focus on a balanced diet that includes a variety of food
  • Avoid high saturated fats and oils
  • Reduces usage of refined sugars
  • Use less salt 
  • Stay hydrated 

Make mealtimes calm and comfortable

At the later stage of Alzheimer's, too many factors can make eating more difficult, like distractions, taste and smell, and changes in perception.

  • Serve meals in quiet surroundings, away from distractions.
  • Keep the table neat by avoiding patterned plates and tablecloths; choose contrasting plates.
  • Check for the appropriate temperature before serving. 
  • Serve one food item at a time, and it becomes easier for them to eat.
  • Be flexible with the food items and allow them to eat at their own pace.
  • Try to keep mealtime social; it can encourage them to eat.
  • Consider serving multiple light meals, as they may forget about their last meal.

Meal Planning and Preparation Strategies

Preparing a balanced meal is not enough for Alzheimer’s patients; there are various other challenges associated with planning a meal and preparation strategies. It helps them consume food without much difficulty.

  • Cook food that isn't hard to chew or swallow. Make bite-size soft foods and grind hard-to-chew foods.
  • Avoid serving raw food that is hard to chew; always be alert for signs of choking. Tell the person to sit straight with head slightly forward. Check for any residual food in the person's mouth.
  • If the person shows decreased appetite, prepare some of his favorite foods.
  • Encourage the person to do some physical activity, or you can try serving several small meals.

Addressing Eating Challenges in Dementia Patients

A person with dementia faces a lot more challenges in addition to normal aging issues. Each person can be helped using different methods, depending on the problem.

  • Loss of appetite: Offer food with a good aroma using herbs, try giving colored food in small portions more frequently, and serve it when it's warm.
  • Difficulty in chewing and swallowing: get a swallowing evaluation. Use soft foods, grind the food, or cut it into smaller pieces. Make them sit straight and lean forward to avoid choking.
  • Difficulty in using utensils: try serving them finger foods. Avoid using utensils. Cut the food into small pieces.
  • Behavioral issues: a person with dementia can get agitated or irritated and may refuse to eat food. Try to find the reason behind it, then try to solve the problem.

The Future of Nutrition Research in Dementia and Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s is becoming a concerning health issue in today’s age. 60%-80% of Alzheimer’s cases have turned to dementia. Research shows that changes that occur in the central nervous system (CNS) in Alzheimer's patients are similar to centers controlling the appetite and regulating food intake. Research conducted shows that malnutrition in Alzheimer's is due to increased metabolism, not because of reduced energy supply. This will help to optimize dietary recommendations in the future for Alzheimer’s. A study by Wang M. suggests that high fat promotes the accumulation of β-amyloid (also correlated with carbohydrates) in the brain, which is one of the main factors in the disease. Future research can assess the benefits of polyunsaturated fatty acids on cognitive health in individuals at a stage of cognitive decline who are also nutrient deficient.

Know about Dementia and Alzheimer's Nutrition tips with Cadabams

At Cadabams, our team of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors work together to take care of your loved ones with the utmost patience and care. Our team of experienced professionals strategizes and drafts the best nutritional diet plans for dementia patients. Learn more about different diets and the beneficial properties of various nutrients with our specialists, who will help a dementia patient live a healthy life. We know nutrition is an important part of dementia and Alzheimer’s treatment, so a holistic approach is used. To learn about nutritional tips to help dementia, consult at Cadabams or visit our website 

If you are searching for a solution to your problem, Cadabam’s Rehabilitation Centre can help you with its team of specialized experts. We have been helping thousands of people live healthier and happier lives for 30+ years. We leverage evidence-based approaches and holistic treatment methods to help individuals effectively manage their Dementia and Alzheimer's. Get in touch with us today. You can call us at +91 96111 94949.

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1. How does nutrition affect Alzheimer's?

A person suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia must focus on external factors like nutrition and exercise, as the disease is largely incurable. Poor nutrition may cause problems like weight loss and behavioral issues. Various nutrients, like n-3 fatty acids and vitamins E and D, have neuroprotective properties that benefit cognitive health.

2. What is the relationship between nutrition and dementia?

Nutrition is one of the many factors that affect the prevention or progression of dementia. Epidemiology cohort studies support the idea that following a dementia-specific diet like the Mediterranean diet or MIND diet can help prevent the onset of dementia. Persons affected by dementia can also benefit from the consumption of specified nutrients responsible for cognitive health.

3. Can nutrition prevent Alzheimer's?

Evidence in the literature for the fact that nutrition can prevent Alzheimer's is scarce, but various scientific studies have shown evidence of improvement in cognitive health with a proper diet and a healthy lifestyle. Following the MIND-DASH and Mediterranean diet has shown promising results in dementia health care and preventing cognitive decay.

4. What are the nutritional risk factors for dementia?

A high intake of saturated and trans fats that are present in hydrogenated vegetable oil has been shown to increase the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the body, which tends to put a person at risk of developing dementia. Low levels of B12 can affect cognitive health, which may lead to dementia.

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