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Aging and preventing cognitive loss


Studies have shown that as one ages, people who eat a Mediterranean diet maintain their cognitive abilities better than people on the APDQS or DASH diets respectively.

As people begin to age there are certain conditions that are of concern to them. They worry about their blood pressure and its effects on their body. These patients worry about the possibility of having a heart attack and how that could change one’s life. There seems to be even more concern about a stroke and how it could limit one’s ability to speak, walk and generally take care of activities of daily living. Patients often ask me how they can prevent the loss of mental or brain function.

As we are living longer, the ability to remain independent and in control of life’s decisions is at the forefront of the minds of many people. As we observe older relatives and friends decline, the loss of mental faculties seems to be of utmost concern.

Cognitive decline with the loss of memory, word searching, loss of concentration and loss of visually recognizing familiar spaces are the hallmarks of mild cognitive impairments. This may advance and then questions come into play as to the ability to make competent decisions and the ability to live independently. The dreaded loss of independence will then follow.

How we prevent this from happening has been a subject of intense medical research for decades. The whole answer to this question still eludes us, however some recent pieces of this puzzle have been uncovered.

Physicians and medical scientists think remaining active can help. More and more recent research has focused on diet. This research has looked at single dose foods. For example, people who eat more mushrooms seem to fair better cognitively than people who do not eat more mushrooms. Another recent study showed that people who drank pomegranate juice fared better cognitively than people who did not.

A recent large study examined three diets that have been known for their benefits in physical and cognitive health. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy unsaturated fats, nuts, legumes and fish and limits red meats, poultry and full fat dairy products.

The APDQS diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, low fat dairy, fish, and moderate alcohol consumption. It limits fried foods, salty snacks, sweets, high fat dairy, and sugar sweetened soft drinks.

The DASH diet highlights, grains vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy, legumes and nuts. It limits meat, fish, poultry, total fat, saturated fat, sweets and sodium.

The participants in this study were first examined at age 32 to 45. At the beginning of the study, it was determined what each research participant’s diet would be and the expected level of adherence to it. The research participants were then tested for cognitive ability at age 50 and 55. This is important due to the length of time their brains were exposed to these diets.

Research findings showed that participants who adhered to the Mediterranean diet fared the best in maintaining cognitive function. The biggest surprise was that those who followed the DASH diet, which is promoted for blood pressure control, showed no cognitive benefit.

To say we have all the answers to which diet is best for brain maintenance would be totally incorrect. At this time, it appears that the Mediterranean diet is the best we have to offer now. Stay tuned for advancements in this field.

Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays. Email Dr. Bland at