Middle-aged women consuming heart-healthy diets were about 17 per cent less likely to report cognitive decline decades later, researchers have found.
The findings from a study conducted by researchers from New York University's (NYU) Grossman School of Medicine, suggest that switching to the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) could improve cognitive function in later life for women who make up more than two-thirds of those diagnosed with the most prevalent form of dementia: Alzheimer's disease.
The DASH diet includes a high consumption of plant-based foods rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium and is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods. The diet limits saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages.
The researchers analysed the data of 5,116 women out of the 14,000 enrolled in the NYU Women's Health Study, which examines the role of lifestyle and other factors on the development of cancer and other chronic conditions in women. They were asked about their diets through questionnaires when they enrolled for the study between 1985 and 1991.
The questions pertained to difficulties in remembering recent events or shopping lists, understanding spoken instructions or group conversation, or navigating familiar streets. The chances of reporting multiple cognitive complaints reduced by 17 per cent in women consuming diets similar to the DASH diet, the researchers analysed.
"Subjective complaints about daily cognitive performance are early predictors of more serious neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's," said Yu Chen, professor in the Department of Population Health and senior author of the study that was published in the journal, Alzheimer's & Dementia. Over a follow-up period of more than 30 years, 33 per cent of the women reported having more than one of the six cognitive complaints, assessed using six validated standard questions indicative of later mild cognitive impairment, which precedes dementia.
"With more than 30 years follow-up, we found that the stronger the adherence to a DASH diet in midlife, the less likely women are to report cognitive issues much later in life," said Chen.
"Our data suggest that it is important to start a healthy diet in midlife to prevent cognitive impairment in older age," said Yixiao Song , a lead author of the study. "Following the DASH diet may not only prevent high blood pressure, but also cognitive issues," said Fen Wu, a senior associate research scientist who co-led the study.
Previous research has shown that high blood pressure, particularly in midlife, is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.