Cognitive decline potentially mitigated by an anti-inflammatory diet

anti-inflammatory diet
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A study based in Greece has indicated that an anti-inflammatory diet may improve cognitive health, reducing the risk of dementia in later life.

The research conducted by specialists from the American Academy of Neurology has illuminated that an anti-inflammatory diet – which includes a more considerable number of fruits, vegetables, beans, and tea or coffee – possibly decreases the risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia.

Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, PhD, of National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, commented: “There may be some potent nutritional tools in your home to help fight the inflammation that could contribute to brain ageing. Diet is a lifestyle factor you can modify, and it might play a role in combating inflammation, one of the biological pathways contributing to risk for dementia and cognitive impairment later in life.”

The findings of the study are published in the online issue of Neurology.

Safeguarding cognitive health

The novel study included 1,059 people in Greece who had an average age of 73 and did not have dementia. The individuals were given a food frequency questionnaire that is traditionally employed to ascertain the inflammatory potential of a person’s diet. The questionnaire collected information on the types of foods the individuals consumed during the previous month, such as dairy products, fruits, vegetables, cereals, meat, fish, legumes (including beans, lentils, and peas), added fats, alcohol, stimulants, and sweets.

From this data, the team can produce a dietary inflammation score for each person’s diet, ranging from -8.87 to 7.98, with higher scores indicative of a more inflammatory diet, characteristically containing fewer servings of fruits, vegetables, beans, and tea or coffee. Although some foods are substantially more inflammatory than others, the researchers note that various nutrients in all foods contribute to an inflammatory diet.

Subsequently, the participants were divided into three equal groups: those with the lowest inflammatory scores, medium scores, and highest scores. The people with the lowest scores of -1.76 and lower, which signifies a more anti-inflammatory diet, on average, ate 20 servings of fruit, 19 of vegetables, four of beans and other legumes, and 11 coffee or tea per week. Contrastingly, those with the highest scores – defined at 0.21 and above – ate an average of nine servings of fruit, 10 of vegetables, two of legumes and nine of coffee or tea.

Effects of an anti-inflammatory diet

All the study’s participants were followed up for an average of three years, with 62 individuals (6%) developing dementia throughout the study. The average score for the people who developed dementia was -0.06, whereas the average score for those who didn’t was -0.70. Next, the researchers adjusted for age, sex and education, discovering that each one-point increase in dietary inflammatory score was associated with a 21% increase in dementia risk. Individuals in the lowest third of participants who consumed the least inflammatory diet were three times less likely to develop dementia than those in the top third.

Scarmeas said: “Our results are getting us closer to characterising and measuring the inflammatory potential of people’s diets. That, in turn, could help inform more tailored and precise dietary recommendations and other strategies to maintain cognitive health.”

A limitation of the study is that it was observational and not a clinical trial, meaning that it does not prove that an anti-inflammatory diet prevents cognitive decline and dementia, only demonstrating an association. The team explained that a more comprehensive study is required to confirm and replicate their findings.

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