Brain health: MIND diet, cutting calories may benefit cognition

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Certain diets like the MIND diet may have cognitive health benefits. Marta Mauri/Stocksy
  • As a result of aging or age-related disease such as dementia, people may start to experience a slight slowing of processing speed and occasional memory lapses.
  • Diet may offer protective benefits against cognitive decline, but these results have not been repeated in clinical trials.
  • Now, a new study has found that for older people, cutting daily calorie intake by a small amount may improve cognition.
  • Improvements in cognition did not differ significantly between people who followed the MIND diet and those on any mild calorie restriction.

Cognitive change is normal as we age. A slight decline in memory and processing speed may begin as early as your 20s and 30s, although this is usually accompanied by improvements in cumulative knowledge well into old age.

Although no individual nutrients have been found to prevent cognitive decline, observational studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet may have beneficial effects on cognition.

Now, a study has compared the effect of the MIND diet — a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets — and mild caloric restriction on cognition.

The study found that both diets had a small positive effect on cognition, with neither being significantly better than the other.

“These study results point to mild caloric restriction and an average weight loss of 5.5% as lifestyle factors that may support cognition in older adults.”
— Rapozo, registered dietitian nutritionist and senior nutrition and health educator at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California

The study is published inThe New England Journal of Medicine.

There was no significant difference between the two groups at the end of the three years in either cognitive performance or MRI scans. Both showed small improvements in cognitive scores, but there was no significant difference between the two groups at the end of the three years in either cognitive performance or MRI scans.

“The findings are not significant for the MIND diet since the weight loss and cognitive improvements between the MIND diet and just a ‘healthier’ diet were negligible. […] Given the outcome, I suspect the Mediterranean diet would have worked just as well but I’d like to see that trial done next!”
— Kate Cohen, a registered dietitian at the Ellison Clinic at Saint John’s, part of the Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine and Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.

The participants lost, on average, 5kg over the course of the trial, which the researchers suggest may have caused the improvements in cognition.

Previous studies have reported an association between weight loss and improved cognitive function.

Kate Cohen, who was not involved in the study, confirmed this:

“We know that losing weight improves many areas of health including lowering the risk of heart disease, insulin resistance and even some cancers. Studies have also shown that weight loss reduces overall inflammation and that limiting calories is likely to have an anti-inflammatory effect – both of which occurred in this study.”

“While we don’t fully understand the mechanism behind cognitive decline, given all these ways we know weight loss benefits overall Health, it feels very unlikely that weight loss wasn’t a factor in this study,” she added.

The researchers also suggest that practice effects may explain the improvement in cognitive tests in the first year for both groups.

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