Nutrition and Dementia

Dementia is a progressive disease which mainly affects the elderly. Alzheimer's disease is the most common manifestation of dementia in the elderly. Alzheimer's is a chronic disease and as of today it's incurable and worsens gradually over time. In Israel, there are estimated to be about 50,000 cases. There is no known cause of the disease and most probably there are a number of factors which influence its development. Many studies have shown that dementia can be prevented.

The Mediterranean Diet and Dementia

The Mediterranean diet is a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, with the main source of fat being olive oil. The diet also incorporates smaller servings of fish, poultry, dairy and meat. The diet incorporates lots of unsaturated fats, dietary fibers, vitamin B and antioxidants.

Studies have shown that people who have followed the Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to people who follow a Western diet. Additionally, a number of studies suggest that a daily consumption of fruit and vegetables can lower the risk of cognitive loss.

Another research has shown a connection between cognitive loss among adults and consumption of saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol. On the other hand, a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids can lower a person’s risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Vitamins and Dementia

A number of studies suggest that oxidative stress is a major factor in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's development and therefore several researchers have hypothesized that the provision of oxidation inhibitors (antioxidants) prevents dementia. Two studies have reported that an antioxidant-rich diet is related to a decreased risk of Alzheimer's. However, the studies didn't show that adding antioxidant supplements to a diet had any effect.

It's been suggested that vitamin E can help slow the progression of the disease. However, there has been no scientific proof that which connects vitamin E supplements to a person's cognitive abilities. Furthermore, scientific research has shown that there is a risk in taking high doses of vitamin E, and therefore adding vitamin E supplements to prevent Alzheimer's disease is not recommended. There are a number of studies which have shown that low levels of folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 is connected to an increased risk of dementia. However, taking vitamin B supplements has not been proven to improve cognitive function.

Physical Activity and Dementia

There is a growing amount of evidence which points to increased physical and social activity lowering an elderly person's chances of dementia. It is unclear how each activity lowers the risk however, doctors recommend to engage in cognitive, social and physical activities from a young age.

Written by: Michal Naeh, clinical dietician, Hadassah Ein Kerem