Food for thought in dementia battle

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Could a resident's chances of getting Alzheimer's disease be influenced by what that person eats?

Researchers from Chicago's Rush University Medical Center seem to think the answer is yes. They are arguing that people who follow a “MIND diet they have developed are less likely to become afflicted.

Much like the Mediterranean diet and the anti-hypertension DASH diet, this one encourages people to consume green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, berries (particularly blueberries), fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. Foods that should be limited include red meat, butter, cheese, fried foods and sweets. 

In a study involving more than 900 Chicago residents, people on the MIND diet lowered their risk for Alzheimer's by 35% to 53%, depending on whether they followed it moderately well or rigorously.

Experts caution that this is just one more step to understanding and preventing Alzheimer's, not a cure-all.

“There is no silver bullet right now,” says Richard King, M.D., Ph.D., an Alzheimer's specialist at University of Utah Health Care.

“What I think a lot of these things do is adjust your risk,” King says. “We know Alzheimer's is complicated in its origin and in its development.” He notes that both genetic and environmental factors likely play a role. 

King says the genetic component makes it difficult to say whether specific foods endorsed or eschewed by the MIND diet make that much of an impact. 

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to what you eat. King says people who are concerned about developing Alzheimer's should heed some general rules of thumb.

“Foods that are good for your heart are good for your brain,” he says. “I think a lot of foods in that diet are just reasonable choices: less of the red meat, a lot more fish, vegetables and fruit.”

Alzheimer's is a fatal brain disease. Initial symptoms include memory and thinking challenges. Sufferers eventually lose their ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living. Symptoms usually appear after age 65. 

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