Mild cognitive impairment: How DASH diet can lower the risk for women

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Experts say a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can lower the risk of cognitive decline in women. Oliver Rossi/Getty Images
  • In a new study, researchers report that women following the DASH diet had fewer signs of cognitive decline later in life.
  • The DASH diet is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
  • Experts note that the most common cause of cognitive impairment is age.

Women who followed diets designed to lower blood pressure, such as the DASH diet, in midlife were less likely to have memory loss and other signs of cognitive decline decades later.

That’s according to a study completed at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York and published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

In their study, researchers analyzed 5,116 medical records from the more than 14,000 women enrolled in the NYU Women’s Health Study. They focused on the impact lifestyle and other factors had on the development of cancer and other chronic conditions.

Participants completed questionnaires about their diet at enrollment in the study – between 1985 and 1991. They were, on average, 46 years old at registration.

After 30 years, the participants answered six questions about their diet and cognitive issues. Researchers called participants who did not return the questionnaire.

The questions centered on mild cognitive impairment, which can lead to dementia. Other questions asked about:

  • Difficulties remembering recent events and shopping lists
  • Understanding spoken instructions
  • Group conversations
  • Navigating familiar streets

About one-third of the participants reported having more than one cognitive issue.

Researchers said the women who most closely followed the DASH diet were about 17% less likely to report multiple cognitive complaints.

“I agree with the results of this study,” said Dr. Shae Datta, co-director of the NYU Langone’s Concussion Center and director of cognitive neurology at NYU Langone Hospital in Long Island. “Any time you increase plant-based foods in your diet, you increase antioxidants, which help to slow down aging.”

The DASH diet is a balanced diet meant to lower blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

According to Harvard TH Chan, School of Public Health, the diet was first introduced in 1996 at a meeting of the American Heart Association when a study showed that people who followed this type of diet reduced their blood pressure and their need for medications.

In addition to lowering blood pressure, the DASH diet can:

  • Lower cardiovascular risk
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, gout, and kidney disease

According to the National Institutes of Health, the DASH diet is high in:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Lean protein (poultry, fish, eggs)

“I do think the inclusion of chicken and fish could have similar results. Though these foods weren’t analyzed in this study, the DASH diet does include lean meats, poultry, and fish,” said Molly Rapozo, RDN, a registered dietician, nutritionist, and senior nutrition and health Educator at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in California who was not involved in the study.

“Aging adults need adequate protein, and poultry/fish are excellent sources. MIND and Mediterranean diets, which have shown similar results to DASH in terms of supporting cognition, include these foods,” Rapozo told Medical News Today. “Lastly, omega-3s from fish provide anti-inflammatory fats which may help decrease the inflammatory process of chronic neurological diseases.”

Choosing foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein is best, she added.

Foods that should be limited include fatty meats, full-fat dairy, sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets, and sodium.

“You should limit foods high in saturated fats as these might accelerate aging,” Datta told Medical News Today. “Fish is good as it provides you with omega 3, and lean, skinless chicken can provide protein in your diet.”

“I am not one for extremes – so making small changes is a good way to start,” she added. “In Asia, only about quarter of their plate has proteins as compared to at least one-third in the U.S. You can slowly start lessening the amount of meat and increasing fruits and vegetables.”

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