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Study Finds Proinflammatory Diets Lead to Cognitive Decline

— August 4, 2021

Anti-inflammatory diets can ward off dementia, study shows.

Data from a new Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort longitudinal study has revealed a proinflammatory diet, as measured by the dietary inflammatory index (DII), is associated with increased risk of dementia.  However, the same data has shown this diet is not associated with increased Alzheimer’s risk.  The findings were presented at the 2021 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

A healthy diet has been hypothesized to protect against chronic inflammation, which leads to the development of chronic diseases including dementia.  “The lack of an association with Alzheimer’s disease was a surprise because amyloid-beta prompts microglia and astrocytes to release markers of systemic inflammation,” according to Debora Melo van Lent, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Health San Antonio – Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases.

The researchers reviewed data collected from 1,486 participants who had never experienced dementia, stroke, or other neurologic diseases at baseline, but reported proinflammatory diets, and analyzed DII scores “both in a continuous range and divided into quartiles, using the first quartile as a reference,” according to the study.

Study Finds Proinflammatory Diets Lead to Cognitive Decline
Photo by Karl Solano from Pexels

“We expected to see a relationship between higher DII scores and an increased risk for incident Alzheimer’s disease.” Melo van Lent added, “The most likely explanation is that the study was underpowered to produce a positive association, and the team is conducting further study in a larger population.  The study is the first to look at all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease dementia and their association with DII.”

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests using the DASH method for selecting a noninflammatory diet.  “Research in the area of the relationship between diet and cognitive functioning is somewhat limited, but it does point to the benefits of two diets in particular: the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet,” the organization explains. “These diets can help reduce heart disease and may also be able to reduce risk of dementia.”

Changing diet is one of the easiest ways to ward off cognitive decline.  Other simple lifestyle changes can protect against dementia.  “The best way to reduce your risk of dementia is to adapt various aspects of your lifestyle, including eating certain foods, taking regular exercise, not smoking, and maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels,” suggests the Alzheimer’s Society based in the U.K.

“As diet is a modifiable risk factor, we can actually do something about it,” said Melo van Lent. “If we take a closer look at five components of the DII which are most anti-inflammatory, these components are present in green leafy vegetables, vegetables, fruit, soy, whole grains, and green and black tea.  Most of these components are included in the Mediterranean diet.  When we look at the three most proinflammatory components, they are present in high caloric products, such as butter or margarine, pastries and sweets, fried snacks, and red or processed meat.  These components are present in ‘Western diets,’ which are discouraged.”

The current findings focused on both men and women.  The mean age of participants was 69 years, and 53% were female.  During follow-up, “11.3% developed AD dementia, and 14.8% developed non-AD dementia,” their findings showed.


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Alzheimer’s Association International Conference

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