A new diet created by scientists may help slow cognitive decline in stroke survivors.
Called the MIND diet (short for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), the eating plan is a mix of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets.
Both diets have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, heart attack and stroke.
Key foods to eat on the MIND diet are vegetables, berries and fish, and foods to avoid are sugar and pastries.
The preliminary findings from researchers at Rush University Medical Centre were presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2018 in Los Angeles and are particularly significant because stroke survivors are twice as likely to develop dementia compared to the general population.
“The foods that promote brain health, including vegetables, berries, fish and olive oil, are included in the MIND diet,” said Dr. Laurel J. Cherian, a vascular neurologist and assistant professor in Rush’s Department of Neurological Sciences. “We found that it has the potential to help slow cognitive decline in stroke survivors.”
Study co-author Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a Rush nutritional epidemiologist, and her colleagues developed the MIND diet based on information from years of research about what foods and nutrients have good and bad effects on the functioning of the brain.
The researchers found that following the diet could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s in the elderly and even those who didn’t adhere to the diet strictly had a reduced risk of AD and cognitive decline.
There are 15 dietary components of the MIND diet - 10 “brain healthy food groups” and five unhealthy groups.
The foods in the unhealthy list are red meat, butter, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.
Butter is limited to less than 1.5 teaspoons a day, you should have less than five servings a week of sweet treats and pastries, and less than one portion a week of whole fat cheese and fried or fast food.
What foods should you eat?
To adhere to the MIND diet you need to make sure you eat at least three servings of whole grains a day, as well as two portions of vegetables, one of which must be a leafy green.
A glass of wine a day is also encouraged, you should snack most days on nuts, have beans roughly every other day, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and have fish once a week.
“I was really intrigued by the results of a previous MIND study, which showed that the people who were most highly adherent to the MIND diet cognitively functioned as if they were 7.5 years younger than the least adherent group,” Cherian said.
“It made me wonder if those findings would hold true for stroke survivors, who are twice as likely to develop dementia compared to the general population.”
From 2004 to 2017, Cherian and colleagues studied 106 participants of the Rush Memory and Ageing Project who had a history of stroke for cognitive decline, including decline in one’s ability to think, reason and remember.
They assessed people in the study every year until their deaths or the study’s conclusion, for an average of 5.9 years, and monitored patients' eating habits using food journals.
Participants were put into groups based on whether they were highly adherent to the MIND diet, moderately adherent or least adherent. Other factors known to affect cognitive performance were also taken into consideration, such as age, gender, education level, participation in cognitively stimulating activities, physical activity, smoking and genetics.
The study participants whose diets scored highest on the MIND diet score had substantially slower rate of cognitive decline than those who scored lowest.
“The Mediterranean and DASH diets have been shown to be protective against coronary artery disease and stroke, but it seems the nutrients emphasised in the MIND diet may be better suited to overall brain health and preserving cognition,” Cherian said.
“I like to think of the MIND diet as a way to supercharge the nutritional content of what we eat. The goal is to emphasise foods that will not only lower our risk of heart attacks and stroke, but make our brains as resilient as possible to cognitive decline,” she said.
However Cherian cautions that the study had a relatively small number of participants and its findings cannot be interpreted in a cause-and-effect relationship.
“This is a preliminary study that will hopefully be confirmed by other studies, including a randomised diet intervention study in stroke survivors,” she says. “For now, I think there is enough information to encourage stroke patients to view food as an important tool to optimise their brain health.”
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