Dementia, a blanket term for memory loss, problem solving, muted thinking skills and limited social skills, is a diagnosis no one wants to hear. This leads to less independence later in life and can make people feel isolated and depressed. Over 7 million in the United States, people get it, and women are slightly more likely to get it than men. It is therefore increasingly important to find ways to prevent dementia.
Causes of Dementia
What causes dementia in the first place? In general, he begins with brain cell damage. (This damage takes time to build up, which is why most people seeing symptoms in your mid-60s.) Different types of cell damage are linked to different types of dementia. For example: Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, occurs when certain proteins accumulate inside and outside brain cells, making it difficult for them to communicate. Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disease that harms the central nervous system and makes it difficult to control movement, occurs when certain nerve cells that produce dopamine die or are damaged. (Dopamine isn’t just the “happiness hormone” — it also helps control and coordinate body movement.)
What then causes brain cell damage that leads to dementia? For most patients, it is a combination of factors ranging from genetics to lifestyle. Although you can’t control all of the factors, there are a few steps you can take now to support prevention later, starting with your diet. Here are four foods that are linked to an increased risk of dementia.
1. Red meat
The occasional burger or slice of salami is unlikely to cause dementia, but you may want to reconsider eat red meat on the regular. A 2019 study published in the BMJ found that the more red meat study participants ate, the higher their risk of death from dementia. The study authors hypothesized that high concentrations of saturated fat and trans fat in the blood—as well as low concentrations of unsaturated fat—could cause blood-brain barrier dysfunction. (The the blood-brain barrier is a border of cells which prevents certain blood particles from entering the brain.)
A 2021 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition came to slightly different conclusions. In this study, the researchers found that higher intakes of treaty meat correlated with higher risk of dementia. Unprocessed red meat, on the other hand, was correlated with lower risk.
A grain of salt: These studies were observational – researchers in both studies used data from medical records and surveys. This means the researchers can’t prove that eating red meat causes dementia because they had no control over the participants’ diet or lifestyle. (In the 2021 study, for example, participants who ate processed red meat were more likely to smoke and exercise less.)
According to British Alzheimer Society, drinking alcohol in excess has well-documented negative effects on brain health. In the short and long term, it can cause brain damage that can lead to dementia.
Why is alcohol harmful to brain health? Scientists don’t yet know if it has a direct toxic effect on brain cells or if the nutritional problems it creates are the real culprit. Heavy alcohol consumption can deplete thiamine levels, or vitamin B1. Very low levels of thiamin can cause chronic memory problems.
Does this mean you have to give up all alcohol? Not necessarily; research on moderate drinking is inconclusive. However, even the upper limit – about five large glasses of wine per week – can have negative effects on your health. So an occasional glass of red is okay, but try to avoid making it a habit.
3. Refined cereals
In a 2020 study published in the Alzheimer’s and dementia journal, researchers found that higher consumption of refined grains – think White bread, cake and crackers – afternoon correlated with increased risk of dementia. Why? The study authors hypothesized that the afternoon is when people snack between meals. These snacks are often high in carbs, low in protein, and low in fiber, a recipe for a blood sugar spike. Regularly snacking on refined grains between meals could increase insulin resistance and body inflammation over time, two factors that increase a person’s risk of dementia.
In a 2017 study by Clinical nutrition, researchers found that a diet high in refined grains (as well as processed meats and sweets) tends to create low-grade systemic inflammation in the body. This constant inflammation correlates with faster cognitive decline.
4. Excess sugar
As with processed grains, eating too much sugar is linked to cognitive decline. A 2013 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that high blood sugar levels can increase the risk of dementia. Additional research shows that too much sugar can cause the brain to shrink and lead to small vessel diseasewhich impedes blood flow to the brain.
Why does high blood sugar increase inflammation? Some scientists theorize that it increases the risk of vascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart disease. Others believe that insulin resistance is the real problem because it alters brain signals. Still others think it’s a combination of the two.
We know what you’re thinking: it’s time to go cold turkey on red meats, alcohol and processed foods. However, completely eliminating all of these foods from your life may be unrealistic, especially as the holidays approach. Our tip: try to fill your meals with healthy ingredients like leafy greens, whole grains and lean proteins. first. This gives you less room to stock up on processed stuff. If you’re unsure about wear to begin with, talk to your GP or nutritionist.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your doctor before proceeding with any treatment plan.