As people age, inflammatory processes within their organisms increase, damaging their cells. According to new research led by the American Academy of Neurology, people who had an anti-inflammatory diet, including more fruits, vegetables, beans, tea, and coffee, had a lower risk of developing dementia later in life.
“There may be some potent nutritional tools in your home to help fight the inflammation that could contribute to brain aging,” said study lead author Nikolaos Scarmeas, an associate professor of Neurology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.
“Diet is a lifestyle factor you can modify, and it might play a role in combating inflammation, one of the biological pathways contributing to risk for dementia and cognitive impairment later in life.”
The researchers investigated 1,059 people in Greece with an average age of 73, who did not have dementia at the beginning of the study. The participants had to answer a food frequency questionnaire that sought information about the main food groups that respondents consumed in the previous month. Each participant’s diet was given a dietary inflammatory score ranging from -8.87 (indicating a less inflammatory diet) to 7.98 (more inflammatory).
The scientists divided the participants into three groups: people with low inflammatory scores (-1.76 and lower), medium scores (up to 0.21), and high scores (over 0.21). Those in the first category consumed a weekly average of 20 servings of fruit, 19 of vegetables, four of beans or other legumes, and 11 of tea or coffee. Those in the last group had nine servings of fruit, 10 of vegetables, two of legumes, and nine of coffee or tea per week.
Researchers followed up the participants for three years. During this period, 62 (6 percent) developed dementia, having an average score inflammatory score of -0.06. By contrast, those who remained healthy had a lower average score (-0.70). These findings show that each one-point increase in inflammatory score was correlated with a 21 percent increase in the risk of developing dementia.
“Our results are getting us closer to characterizing and measuring the inflammatory potential of people’s diets. That in turn could help inform more tailored and precise dietary recommendations and other strategies to maintain cognitive health,” concluded Professor Scarmeas.
The study is published in the journal Neurology.