"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Strengthening brain health through nutrition can take a few years

July 19, 2023 – Researchers studying a food plan to enhance brain health were surprised by the outcomes of a recent experiment, because the brain health of subjects on the MIND food plan was no higher after three years than that of subjects on a control food plan.

About half of the 604 participants followed the Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay food plan for 3 years. The other half underwent only mild calorie restriction.

“In cognitively unimpaired participants with a family history of dementia, changes in cognitive abilities and brain MRI results … did not differ significantly between those who followed the MIND diet and those who followed the control diet,” the study authors wrote.

The MIND food plan improved the brains of those that followed it for 3 years. Magnetic resonance imaging scans showed fewer small lesions and more gray and white matter, the cognitive center of the brain and the “communication highway,” respectively. CNN reported.

But the brains of participants who didn't follow the MIND food plan showed similar improvements.

“We really expected the MIND diet to be more effective than the control group, so we were quite surprised by the result,” said lead creator Lisa Barnes, deputy director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

The study was published in New England Journal of Medicine.

The MIND food plan includes many elements of the Mediterranean food plan, a food plan that favors fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and olive oil. The MIND food plan also includes a part of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) food plan, which goals to enhance blood pressure and reduce the danger of heart attacks, strokes, and a few conditions that may result in dementia.

CNN reported concerns in regards to the recent study.

“My biggest concern with this study from the beginning was that three years might be too short a time to have an impact on a disease course that develops over many decades,” said Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition on the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and professor of drugs at Harvard Medical School.

Willett referred to a older clinical study The study found that eating more beta-carotenoids – the antioxidants present in red, yellow, orange and dark green vegetables and fruit – provided cognitive advantages – but only after years of following the food plan.

Barnes said previous studies have shown that following the MIND food plan and the Mediterranean food plan provides significant protection against cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease, but those studies lasted for much longer than the brand new three-year study.