Brain Health “Secrets”Public Education Committee of the Arkansas Psychological Association
Increasingly, research is finding support for nonpharmacological interventions in both the prevention and management of dementia. Fortunately, most of these “interventions” are important for overall health and are, therefore, things we should be doing anyway.
These include adequate sleep, management of obstructive sleep apnea if present (i.e., CPAP adherence), glucose control in diabetics, and of course diet and exercise. The focus in this article will be on diet and exercise.
You may have heard about the “Mediterranean Diet” through various media outlets. It has been mentioned for a while, but findings have been mixed mostly due to methodological issues inherent in studying dietary habits (i.e., reliance on self-report, different criteria utilized across studies, etc.). However, the overall take-home message does appear to support not only adherence to “Mediterranean Diet” but– on the flip side- avoidance of the “Southern Diet”. Both findings appear largely due to control of vascular risk factors which we know increase risk for vascular dementia in particular, though- importantly- they are now understood to increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease, as well.
Let’s talk about the negative side first. A recent study looking at individuals from all over the United States found that dietary intake explained, to a great degree, differences in stroke incidence. Specifically, a diet rich in salty, high-fat fried foods and sugary drinks was found to account for approximately 63% of the variation in stroke risk. Notably, the researchers termed this diet the “Southern diet”, as it is typical of the dietary pattern seen in the South. Arkansas was listed as one of the 10 states with greatest adherence to the Southern diet.
In contrast to the Southern diet, the Mediterranean diet is high in consumption of vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, legumes, and extra virgin olive oil. Another study from the above-referenced research group found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with decreased likelihood of cognitive impairment. Further, a report just published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed support for benefit of the Mediterranean Diet over a low fat diet in prevention of cerebrovascular disease. Also worth mention, the “Southern diet” study found little difference in amount of calories consumed in the Southern diet versus others, suggesting involvement of factors beyond calorie consumption. They also found that adherence to a plant-based diet was associated with a 20% reduction in stroke risk. Although more research is needed, diet certainly appears important for brain health, in addition to known overall health benefits.
Much to the dismay of many (including self), a great deal of research is starting to more strongly support the importance of exercise in prevention and management, and perhaps even treatment, of dementia. As much as we would like, the findings are simply too compelling to be ignored. Available studies suggest better outcomes in strength training and aerobic activity versus stretching alone, though specific recommendations have yet to be established.
Dr. Addison-Brown is a clinical neuropsychologist. She opened her own private practice, NEA Neuropsychology, in June 2014, located at 304 Southwest Square. She can be reached at 870-203-6085 or firstname.lastname@example.org. As a neuropsychologist, she performs evaluations for diagnosis and recommendations for various neurological and psychiatric conditions, including attention-deficit disorders, learning disorders, dementia, stroke, traumatic brain injury, and depression/anxiety, among others. She also conducts pre-surgical evaluations for bariatric and other surgeries and return-to-work and employment screening evaluations.