3 Diet Keys to Reducing Dementia

Think Salmon, Greens Dressed in Walnut Oil, and Fruit for Dessert

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 12, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 12, 2007 -- A new French diet hit the headlines today, and it's more about saving your brain than whittling your waistline.

French scientists have spotted three dietary staples of seniors who avoid dementia:

  • Eating fish at least once a week
  • Eating fruits and vegetables (raw or cooked) daily
  • Using fats such as walnut oil, soy oil, or colza oil (related to canola oil)

Those habits may make Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia less likely, the researchers report in tomorrow's edition of Neurology.

They studied some 8,000 people aged 65 and over in three French towns -- Bordeaux, Dijon, and Montpelier -- for four years.

The goal: See if what people eat is in sync with their dementia risk.

Diet and Dementia

At the study's start, participants took dementia tests and completed dietary surveys. None had dementia at the time.

Participants took dementia tests at least once more over the next four years. Those tests show 281 new cases of dementia.

Most of those cases were Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia in elders.

Diet and dementia data lined up in three key patterns:

Fruits & veggies: Dementia was 28% less common among people who reported eating fruits and vegetables daily.

Fish: Dementia was 40% less common among fish eaters without the ApoE4 Alzheimer's gene glitch, compared with their peers who don't eat fish.

Fats: People who regularly consumed fats rich in omega-3 fatty acids were less likely than people who skimped on those oils to develop dementia during the study.

The balance of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids also mattered.

Favoring fats rich in omega-6 fatty oils such as sunflower oil and grape seed oil was linked to greater dementia risk unless people also ate fish or other dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

The findings held when the researchers considered other risk factors.

But the study doesn't promise that diet makes or breaks dementia risk. Observational studies such as this one don't prove cause and effect.


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SOURCES: Barberger-Gateau, P. Neurology, Nov. 13, 2007; vol 69: pp 1921-1930. News release, American Academy of Neurology.

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