The risk of cognitive decline late in life may be lowered by following a plant-based diet earlier in life, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The research indicates that the chances of suffering from cognitive decline, and worse, are reduced by following a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and limiting the intake of animal products.
The aged population as a demographic is growing quickly with an increased life expectancy. In 2017 the global population aged 80 years old or more was estimated at about 137 million. This figure is likely to increase to about 425 million by 2050 according to UN estimates. So the numbers of people worldwide set to suffer from cognitive decline are likely to increase dramatically. This is a burden and has major economic costs associated with it. So reducing this disease must become a global health priority.
Could eating a plant-based diet earlier in a person’s life really help reduce the chances of being gripped by cognitive decline, severe dementia or even Alzheimer’s disease?
The study concluded that people who had strongly adhered to mainly plant-based dietary patterns during midlife were 18 to 33 per cent less likely to develop cognitive impairment later on in life.
Healthful dietary pattern is important
Professor Koh Woon Puay of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health and the Duke-NUS Medical School led the study. Commenting on the findings she said that:
“Previous studies have shown mixed results when it comes to diet and the risk of cognitive impairment, with few studies conducted in Asian populations.
“Our study suggests that maintaining a [healthful] dietary pattern is important for the prevention of onset and delay of cognitive impairment.”
Professor Puay adds that “such a pattern is not about the restriction of a single food item but the composition of an overall pattern that recommends cutting back on red meats, especially if they are processed, and including lots of plant-based foods (vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, whole grains) and fish.”
The study was of over 63,000 Chinese people living in Singapore.
If a person’s diet really is a “modifiable risk factor” that could retard the progression of cognitive decline with ageing, then the issue of changing dietary patterns becomes a matter of enormous social public policy.
Cognitive impairment is such a sad stage in the lives of so many older people. Their everyday lives are blighted by the confusion that comes from difficulties in remembering things and concentrating on basic tasks. Making sensible decisions becomes very difficult. Dementia may follow and this most certainly does rob older people of their dignity.
So if you want to avoid this sad loss of dignity in old age, start eating those leafy green vegetables now.
There are many other scientific research papers indicating the health benefits of a plant-based diet. One such study indicates that a plant-based diet can help alleviate diabetes and other chronic diseases.