NYS Certified Nutritionist

Dietary Choices Linked to Loss of Brain Volume

From 1990-2016, the world-wide incidence of dementia increased by 117%. This alarming statistic has stimulated many scientists to look for possible causes of this life-altering condition- affecting patients, families, and governments.

With inflammation being a suspected initiator of many of our chronic, debilitating illnesses, there have been many studies focused on the influence of diet on chronic inflammation in the human body. One such study recently came from scientists at the University of Texas Health, San Antonio. For seven years they studied nearly 2,000 subjects, average age of 62 years, who completed food frequency questionnaires, and were given MRI assessments of their brains, as well as blood tests.

Participants’ questionnaires were assessed using the Dietary Inflammatory Index [DII]. The scientists measured the potential impact of food choices on each person’s inflammation status, determined by markers found in their blood. Diets high in inflammatory foods were associated with increased markers of brain aging, and cerebral small vessel disease. In addition, diets considered pro-inflammatory were associated with a smaller brain volume. The inflammatory markers found in blood tests, and the MRI brain imaging results may be early indicators of dementia.

The list of dietary components with suspected pro-inflammatory potential included: Vitamin B12 [found only in animal products], Iron, Carbohydrates, Cholesterol [found only in animal products], Excessive Caloric Intake, Protein, Saturated Fats, and Total Fat Content.

While today there are no clear paths to the prevention of dementia, we do have some clues as to how to lower our risk. We need to keep our weight within the normal limits for our height, so we feel comfortable in our skin, and are able to exercise regularly. The My Plate metaphor from the US government is a useful guide to help us with portion sizes and appropriate distribution of food groups…Half the plate should be filled with vegetables…1/4 of the plate should be reserved for complex carbohydrates – the starches…and the last 1/4 of the plate is for protein sources like beans [legumes], tofu, seitan, tempeh, fish, poultry without skin, and lean meats.

Again, food writer Michael Pollan said it best…”Eat real food…not too much…mostly plants.” And, I would add that the Mediterranean, Asian, and Blue Zone diets make those sensible guidelines delicious.

Dateline: Town of Colonie, Albany County, New York State