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Like our cars, our brains work better for longer with regular servicing and maintenance. And in just the same way our vehicles run better with the best fuel appropriate to the model and make, our brains work best with healthy food choices.

New research from Finland has revealed that making healthy food choices especially around our midlife, in our fifties (but why wait until then to start) had almost a 90% lower risk of dementia in a 14 year follow up compared to those whose diet was the least healthy.

Not a typo. 90% lower risk.

The study looked at entire dietary patterns rather than individual foods, because that matches more what we actually do. Nobody eats one or two foods exclusively do they?

The Mediterranean style of eating is the one that has been the most extensively studied and adhering to this type of eating pattern has been shown to be of value to maintain mood, memory and cognition over our lives.

This new study is a first to investigate the relationship between a lifestyle choice i.e. healthy eating and risk of cognitive decline in our later years.
Unsurprisingly the healthy foods included: vegetables, berries and fruits and unsaturated fats from milk products.

The debate about avoiding saturated fats and trans fats being bad for cognition and health has been continuing for a while. Marjo Eskelinen who presented the results  in her doctoral thesis also separately investigated the impact of dietary fats on cognitive performance and risk of dementia in a 21 year follow up.

A higher intake of saturated fat was associated with an increased risk of dementia in those carrying the genetic risk factor of the APOE4 variant. But even if you have that increased genetic risk Ms Eskelinen says “it is possible to delay the onset of the disease by favouring fatty fish, vegetable oils and oil based spreads in their diet”

Bottom line: A higher intake of saturated fats is linked to poorer cognitive functions and increased risk of dementia.

An increasing number of studies have indicated that it is those choices we make around the time of our forties and fifties that make the biggest difference not just to our longevity but how well we live out those later years.
Keeping to a healthy weight, keeping blood pressure in the normal range, avoiding type two diabetes and getting appropriate help for depression all contribute in a big way to how well our brain will function for us in older life.

Of course it needs to be said, making healthy food choices does not guarantee protection from dementia but it would seem a no-brainer to ignore an opportunity to potentially lower our risk.

Pass the broccoli please.
Other significant work addressing how lifestyle factors impacts how well our brains function will be discussed in another blog later this week.

Until then 🙂


University of Eastern Finland. “Healthy midlife diet may prevent dementia later.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140310090617.htm>.

Ms Eskelinen has published a number of papers on doet and cognition including:
Midlife Healthy-Diet Index and Late-Life Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Eskelinen MH, Ngandu T, Tuomilehto J, Soininen H, Kivipelto H. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders Extra 2011; 1(1): 103–112.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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