A specially designed diet for the brain, with even moderate adherence, shows reduction in incidence of Alzheimer ’s Disease by as much as 53 percent. The new diet, known as MIND, was reported in the most recent issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the Journal of the American Alzheimer’s Association in March, 2015. The “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” (MIND) diet was developed by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago by nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D., and her colleagues.
The study shows the MIND diet lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) by as much as 53 percent in participants who adhered to the diet rigorously, and by about 35 percent in those who followed it moderately well. “One of the more exciting things about this is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD,” said Morris, a Rush professor, assistant provost for Community Research, and director of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology. “I think that will motivate people,” Morris said.
The diet resembles a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) with an emphasis on vegetables, berries, fish, healthy fats, and nuts. However, Morris and her colleagues developed the MIND diet from accrued studies from these diets, while paying particular attention to foods and nutrients that have supportive effects on brain function.
This is the first study to relate the MIND diet to Alzheimer’s disease. “I was so very pleased to see the outcome we got from the new diet,” Morris said. The MIND diet came about because though the Mediterranean and DASH diets reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, like hypertension, heart attack and stroke, some studies also found they also protect against dementia.
Where the MIND diet differs is adherence and results. In this latest study, the MIND diet, Mediterranean diet and DASH diets were compared. When study subjects had high adherence to the DASH and Mediterranean diets, they showed reductions in AD — 39 percent and 54 percent, respectively. However, with moderate compliance to either diet, there were only negligible benefits. However, in the MIND diet, even off and on compliance showed positive results.
Morris built the MIND diet to have flexibility. For instance, it includes 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups,” which include the following:
Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables; nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, wine.
And, five unhealthy groups that comprise:
Red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.
The MIND diet includes at least three servings of whole grains, a salad and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine. It also involves snacking most days on nuts and eating beans every other day or so, poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week.
Dieters must limit eating the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three), to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s, according to the study.
Berries are the only fruit specifically to make the MIND diet. “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” Morris said, and strawberries have also performed well in past studies of the effect of food on cognitive function.
Unlike intervention studies, the MIND diet looked at what people were already eating and participants earned points if they ate brain-healthy foods frequently and avoided unhealthy foods. The single exception was for olive oil, which was tallied as one point if it was the primary oil used in the home.
The study enlisted 923 volunteers already participating in the ongoing Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP), which began in 1997 among residents of Chicago-area retirement communities and senior public housing complexes. An optional “food frequency questionnaire” was added from 2004 to February 2013. A total of 144 cases of AD developed in this cohort.
Alzheimer’s, which takes a devastating toll on cognitive function, is not unlike heart disease in that there appear to be “many factors that play into who gets the disease,” including behavioral, environmental and genetic components, Dr. Morris said. “With late-onset AD, with that older group of people, genetic risk factors are a small piece of the picture,” she said. Past studies have yielded evidence that suggests that what we eat may play a significant role in determining who gets AD and who doesn’t,” Morris said.
When the researchers in the new study left out of the analyses those participants who changed their diets somewhere along the line — say, on a doctor’s orders after a stroke — they found that “the association became stronger between the MIND diet and [favorable] outcomes” in terms of AD, Morris said. “That probably means that people who eat this diet consistently over the years get the best protection.”In other words, it looks like the longer a person eats the MIND diet, the less risk that person will have of developing AD, Morris said.
As is the case with many health-related habits, including physical exercise, she said, “You’ll be healthier if you’ve been doing the right thing for a long time,” Morris said. “We devised a diet and it worked in this Chicago study. The results need to be confirmed by other investigators in different populations and also through randomized trials.” That is the best way to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the MIND diet and reductions in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, she said.The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging. All the researchers on this study were from Rush except for Frank M. Sacks M.D., professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, Department of Nutrition, at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Sacks chaired the committee that developed the DASH diet.
 Morris MC, et al. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, J of Alzheimer’s Association.2015 Sep;11(9):1007-1014. ; pii: S1552-5260(15)00017-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 25681666.
 Tangney CC, et al, Relation of DASH- and Mediterranean-like dietary patterns on cognitive decline in older persons. Neurology. 2014;83:1410–1416.
 ibid. Alzheimers & Dementia, J of Alzheimer’s Association. 2015.