MIND Diet Slows Cognitive Decline in Stroke Survivors

A particular diet may help slow cognitive decline in stroke survivors, according to new research.

According to researchers at Rush University Medical Center, the finding are significant because stroke survivors are twice as likely to develop dementia compared to the general population.

Call the MIND diet — short for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay — the diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, such as hypertension, heart attack, and stroke, researchers noted.

“The foods that promote brain health, including vegetables, berries, fish, and olive oil, are included in the MIND diet,” said Dr. Laurel J. Cherian, a vascular neurologist and assistant professor in Rush’s Department of Neurological Sciences. “We found that it has the potential to help slow cognitive decline in stroke survivors.”

Study co-author Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a Rush nutritional epidemiologist, and her colleagues developed the MIND diet based on information from years of research about what foods and nutrients have good, and bad, effects on the functioning of the brain.

According to the researchers, the diet has been associated with reduced Alzheimer’s risk in seniors who adhered to its recommendations. Even people who moderately adhered had reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline, the researchers noted.

The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and five unhealthy groups — red meat, butter, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

To benefit from the MIND diet, a person would need to eat at least three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine — snack most days on nuts, have beans every other day or so, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week.

The diet also specifies limiting intake of the designated unhealthy foods, limiting butter to less than one and half teaspoons a day, and eating less than five servings a week of sweets and pastries, and less than one serving a week of whole fat cheese, and fried or fast food.

“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,” Cherian said. “It made me wonder if those findings would hold true for stroke survivors, who are twice as likely to develop dementia compared to the general population.”

From 2004 to 2017, Cherian and her colleagues studied 106 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project who had a history of stroke for cognitive decline, including decline in one’s ability to think, reason, and remember.

They assessed people in the study every year until their deaths or the study’s conclusion, for an average of 5.9 years, monitoring patients’ eating habits using food journals.

The researchers grouped participants into those who were highly adherent to the MIND diet, moderately adherent, and least adherent.

They also looked at additional factors that are known to affect cognitive performance, including age, gender, education level, participation in cognitively stimulating activities, physical activity, smoking, and genetics.

The study participants whose diets scored highest on the MIND diet score had substantially slower rates of cognitive decline than those who scored lowest.

The estimated effect of the diet remained strong even after taking into account participants’ level of education and participation in cognitive and physical activities, the researchers noted.

In contrast to the results of slower decline with higher MIND diet score, stroke survivors who scored high on the Mediterranean and DASH diets did not have significant slowing in their cognitive abilities, the researchers discovered.

“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 substances such as 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,” she said. “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.”

“Our study suggests that if we choose the right foods, we may be able to protect stroke survivors from cognitive decline,” she continued.

Cherian cautions, however, that the study was observational, with a relatively small number of participants, and its findings cannot be interpreted in a cause-and-effect relationship.

“This is a preliminary study that will hopefully be confirmed by other studies, including a randomized diet intervention study in stroke survivors,” she said. “For now, I think there is enough information to encourage stroke patients to view food as an important tool to optimize their brain health.”

The research was presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2018.

Source: Rush University Medical Center