Public Release: 

MIND diet slows cognitive decline in stroke survivors

American Heart Association Meeting Report Presentation 152 -- Session: A26

American Heart Association

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 25, 2018 -- A diet that zeros in on foods that promote brain health, including vegetables, berries, fish and olive oil, helps to substantially slow cognitive decline in stroke survivors, according to preliminary research presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2018, a world premier meeting dedicated to the science and treatment of cerebrovascular disease for researchers and clinicians.

The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, or MIND, is a combination of the nutritionally healthy DASH and Mediterranean diets, but with modifications based on the best scientific evidence on nutrition and brain health. Other foods featured in the MIND diet include nuts, beans, poultry, whole grains and moderate wine consumption. It limits red meats and red meat products, butter, trans fat margarines, cheese, sweets and pastries as well as fried and fast foods.

Study co-author Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, is the lead creator of the MIND diet, which has been associated with reduced Alzheimer's risk in seniors who adhered closely to its recommendations.

"We know that stroke survivors are twice as likely to develop dementia compared to the general population. I was really intrigued by the results of a previous MIND study, which showed that the people who were most highly adherent to the MIND diet cognitively functioned as if they were 7.5 years younger than the least adherent group. It made me wonder if those findings would hold true for stroke survivors," said Laurel J. Cherian, M.D., M.S, co-study author and vascular neurologist and assistant professor of neurological sciences at Rush University Medical Center.

Cherian and colleagues studied 106 stroke survivors for cognitive decline, including decline in one's ability to think, reason and remember. They assessed people in the study every year, for an average of 4.7 years, and monitored patients' eating habits, grouping them into those who were highly adherent to MIND, moderately adherent and least adherent to the diet. They also examined factors that are known to affect cognitive performance, including age, gender, education level, participation in cognitively stimulating activities, physical activity, smoking and genetics.

They found:

  • Those in the most adherent MIND group had a substantially slower rate of cognitive decline than people who adhered least to the diet.

  • The estimated effect of the diet remained strong even after taking into account participants' level of education and participation in cognitive and physical activities.

  • While adherence to the MIND diet was highly associated with slower rate of cognitive decline in stroke patients, the Mediterranean and DASH diets, were not associated with slower cognitive decline.

"The Mediterranean and DASH diets have been shown to be protective against coronary artery disease and stroke, but it seems the nutrients emphasized in the MIND diet may be better suited to overall brain health and preserving cognition," Cherian said.

According to Cherian, studies have found that folate, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids and flavonoids are associated with slower rates of cognitive decline, while things like saturated and hydrogenated fats have been associated with dementia.

"I like to think of the MIND diet as a way to supercharge the nutritional content of what we eat. The goal is to emphasize foods that will not only lower our risk of heart attacks and stroke, but make our brains as resilient as possible to cognitive decline," she said. "Our study suggests that if we choose the right foods, we may be able to protect stroke survivors from cognitive decline. This is a preliminary study that will hopefully be confirmed by other studies, including research looking specifically at stroke survivors. For now, I think there is enough information to encourage stroke patients to view food as one of their most powerful tools to optimize their brain health."

The main limitation of the study is that it's observational and findings cannot be interpreted in a cause-and-effect relationship. The study is also relatively small.

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Other co-authors are Neelum T. Aggarwal, M.D.; Thomas Holland, M.D.; Puja Agarwal, Ph.D.; Yamin Wang, Ph.D.; Keiko Fukuda, B.A.; and Martha C Morris, Sc.D. Author disclosures are on the abstract. The National Institute on Aging funded the study.

Presentation location: Room 515A

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