Fighting Dementia with a Plant-Based Diet
As we age, not only do we start paying more attention to how our bodies respond to what we eat, but we start to think beyond the short term – how does what we eat help our bodies, inside and out, over the long term? This is an important question, especially when one considers the risk of degenerative brain diseases, such as dementia. Fortunately, studies are continuing to show how specific diets can help reduce the risk. Here we'll specifically at the correlation between a plant based diet and dementia.
Can a plant based diet reverse dementia?
One recent study of nearly 30,000 adults, published in Neurology, found that diets higher in healthier foods (mainly fruits, vegetables, and grains) were linked to a significant decline in the risk of cognitive decline commonly associated with Dementia and other cognitive disorders. Diets higher in these healthier foods showed a reduced risk of up to 24%, while diets higher in saturated fat and red meat were at higher risks.
Tzu Chi Vegetarian Study in Taiwan consisted of over 12,000 participants. The quantitative study showed that compared with non-vegetarians, vegetarians had 38% lower risk of dementia.
What this means: The long-term effect of eating plants (vegetables, fruits, whole grains) may mean a reduced risk of cognitive decline.
The Role of Antioxidants
One theory behind the brain boost from plant-based eating is that a diet high in fruits and veggies, particularly those that are dark green or brightly colored, is higher in antioxidants than a typical omnivore diet. These antioxidants are constantly on patrol and not only fight inflammation that can lead to injury of the brain tissues, but they also identify and remove free radicals (damaged cells) before they can cause problems.
What this means: Antioxidant-rich foods (dark green or bright colored produce) help your brain function optimally.
Plant-based diets are rich in vitamins and minerals, which are important to keep your body (and brain) in top working order. Vitamins such as B6, B12, and folic acid are key components to reducing the amount of homocysteine in the blood. This compound is associated with a higher risk of stroke and cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
What this means: Plant-based diets offer natural sources of brain-boosting vitamins.
Along with a healthy diet, regular exercise is a key component to maintaining a healthy brain. A study by Comprehensive Physiology indicates that exercise actually helps to keep the molecular structure of your brain more elastic – and able to cope better with the aging process.
There are many reasons why a plant-based diet is better for you in the short term, but many don’t stop to consider that a change you make now could positively affect your brain health in ten years, twenty years or more.
Start by including more plant-based foods that feed your brain like kale, spinach, blueberries, nuts and red peppers. A salad like the one above, Spinach & Berries Salad, is a sure winner. Eat up and take care of your brain!