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A healthy diet is linked to slower aging and reduced dementia risk

The study sheds light on how adhering to a nutritious diet could potentially offer protective benefits against cognitive decline. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

A recent study conducted by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and The Robert Butler Columbia Aging Center has unveiled a promising link between a healthier diet and a decreased risk of dementia, along with a slower aging process.

Published in the Annals of Neurology, the study sheds light on how adhering to a nutritious diet could potentially offer protective benefits against cognitive decline.


"Much attention to nutrition in dementia research focuses on the way specific nutrients affect the brain," explained Daniel Belsky, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology at Columbia School of Public Health and one of the senior authors of the study. "We tested the hypothesis that healthy diet protects against dementia by slowing down the body’s overall pace of biological aging."

Dementia-free survival and all-cause mortality survival according to categories of DGAI score and of DunedinPACE, estimated by Kaplan-Meier estimator, The Framingham Offspring cohort, 1991-2018 (n = 1,525). (CREDIT: Annals of Neurology)

To delve into this relationship, the researchers utilized data from the Offspring Cohort of the Framingham Heart Study, which commenced in 1971. This cohort comprised individuals aged 60 and above, free from dementia, and with comprehensive dietary, epigenetic, and follow-up data.


Over the years, participants underwent nine examinations spaced approximately every 4 to 7 years, which included physical examinations, lifestyle questionnaires, blood sampling, and neurocognitive testing since 1991.

Among the 1,644 participants analyzed, 140 developed dementia. Employing an epigenetic clock named DunedinPACE, devised by Belsky and colleagues from Duke University and the University of Otago, the researchers gauged the rate of aging, likened to a "speedometer for the biological processes of aging."


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"We have some strong evidence that a healthy diet can protect against dementia," remarked Yian Gu, PhD, associate professor of Neurological Sciences at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and another senior author of the study. "But the mechanism of this protection is not well understood."

The study found that greater adherence to the Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet (MIND) correlated with a deceleration in the aging process as measured by DunedinPACE, as well as reduced risks of dementia and mortality.


Impressively, a slower DunedinPACE explained 27 percent of the diet-dementia association and 57 percent of the diet-mortality association.

Mediation effect of pace of biological aging on the association of diet with dementia (panel A) and mortality (panel B), The Framingham Offspring cohort, 1991-2018 (n = 1,525). (CREDIT: Annals of Neurology)

"Our findings suggest that slower pace of aging mediates part of the relationship of healthy diet with reduced dementia risk, and therefore, monitoring pace of aging may inform dementia prevention," said Aline Thomas, PhD, a Postdoc at the Columbia Department of Neurology and Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain, who served as the first author of the study.


"However, a portion of the diet-dementia association remains unexplained, therefore we believe that continued investigation of brain-specific mechanisms in well-designed mediation studies is warranted."

"We suggest that additional observational studies be conducted to investigate direct associations of nutrients with brain aging, and if our observations are also confirmed in more diverse populations, monitoring biological aging, may indeed, inform dementia prevention," added Belsky.

This research underscores the importance of dietary habits in influencing not just physical health but also cognitive well-being, offering a potential avenue for dementia prevention strategies.


As we await further exploration into the intricate mechanisms underlying this connection, adopting a balanced and nutritious diet appears increasingly vital in promoting healthy aging and safeguarding against cognitive decline.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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