Unlocking the code of longevity: How your diet might hold the key to a sharper mind

By Divya Vimal

We’ve all grown up hearing about the virtues of eating our greens and maintaining a healthy diet. But what if I told you that beyond just keeping your body in shape, a healthy diet could be your secret weapon against the ravages of aging and even dementia in later life? Yes, that’s right- those veggies might just be your ticket to a sharper mind and a healthier future! A groundbreaking study delved into this intriguing possibility, focusing on whether a healthy diet could slow down the biological clock and reduce the risk of dementia.

The researchers examined information from the Framingham Offspring Cohort, consisting of 1,644 participants aged 60 years and older, and has been under follow-up since 1971. They used algorithms also called epigenetic clocks to measure how quickly participants were aging biologically by assessing the methylation status of the DNA in white blood cells. One such epigenetic clock is DunedinPACE, which was utilized in this study as a predictor of health-span and lifespan. Meanwhile, they assessed diet quality using the Mediterranean Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet (MIND) diet score and tracked the occurrence of dementia and mortality. The MIND diet has been developed for prevention of dementia, combining key principles from two healthy diets (i.e. Mediterranean diet and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet). The MIND diet emphasizes high intake of neuroprotective foods such as fish, green leafy vegetables, berries, and nuts, while minimizing intake of red meat, butter, sweets. The MIND diet is a composite scoring system based on components of the MIND diet. Each component of the diet was scored from zero to one, reflecting the frequency of food consumption. Scores were assessed weekly, and the total MIND diet score, ranging from 0 to 15, was calculated as the sum of the 15 component scores. Higher scores indicated better adherence to the diet over the long term. 

Excitingly, the results revealed a compelling link between diet, aging, and dementia risk. Participants who adhered more closely to the MIND diet enjoyed a slower pace of biological aging (each 1-standard deviation (SD) increase in MIND diet score associated with a 0.20-SD slower DunedinPACE). For each improvement in the MIND diet score, there was a reduction of 34 fewer incident dementia cases per 10,000 people a year, suggesting that a healthier diet could lead to fewer cases of dementia over time- a striking finding! Digging deeper, about 27% of the diet’s impact on dementia risk was attributed to its effect on the aging pace. This suggests that a good diet might protect your mind by keeping your body younger at the cellular level.

Furthermore, a slower pace of biological aging was independently associated with lower risks of both dementia and mortality. This means that not only does a healthy diet potentially safeguard your mind, but it could also help you live longer.

Covariate analysis (statistical method) including factors like socio-economic status, genetics, lifestyle, and health conditions didn’t change the main results. Interestingly, there were no significant differences in how diet affected aging based on sex or APOE4 status (a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s). Furthermore, the study revealed that maintaining a healthy diet at different life stages, from mid-life to older age, was associated with slower biological aging, reduced risk of dementia, and lower mortality rates. Alternatively, similar analysis with the Mediterranean Diet Score and the Dietary Guideline Adherence Index mirrored the associations between different measures of diet quality and health outcomes underscoring the well-known health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. These findings collectively underscore the significant impact of diet on aging and health outcomes, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a healthy diet throughout life.

While the study had its limitations, such as a predominantly white cohort and participant recall bias, its implications are profound. It hints at the possibility that by monitoring our biological age, we might gain valuable insights into how to prevent dementia and age-related decline. Furthermore, the study couldn’t differentiate if a healthy diet directly affected organ health, leading to slower aging (egg before the chicken) versus its impact on cellular aging indirectly preserving organ health (chicken before the egg).

In essence, this study highlights the power of diet in preserving both body and mind. It paints a hopeful picture of a future where something as simple as dietary choices could be the key to a longer, healthier life with a more agile mind. 

Original paper

Reviewed by: Aline Thomas and Trang Nguyen

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