People who follow a more inflammatory diet are at greater risk for developing dementia, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.
Inflammation is a biological process in the body that occurs in response to damaged cells, in an attempt to heal the damage. Infection and injury are two classic causes of inflammation. While inflammation isn’t inherently bad, chronic inflammation can be harmful — leading to damaged cells and tissues as your body tries to fight off a perceived threat. While the causes of chronic inflammation can be complex, it is widely known that certain foods can contribute to excessive inflammation, while other foods can help keep inflammation under control. A person’s diet can be evaluated for its inflammatory potential, and one widely used measure of this — known as the diet inflammatory index (DII) — uses 45 different dietary parameters to create an overall score.
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For the latest study, researchers looked at the relationship between DII scores and the onset of dementia in 1,059 participants with an average age of 73. Participants were followed for an average of 3.05 years, during which 62 people developed dementia based on standard criteria for diagnosing the condition. By comparing DII scores with dementia diagnoses, the researchers found that each additional unit in a person’s DII score was linked to a 21% higher risk for dementia. Compared with participants whose DII score fell in the bottom third, those whose score fell in the top third — representing the highest inflammatory potential — were 3.01 times as likely to develop dementia. Since these numbers suggest a dose-dependent relationship between DII score and dementia — meaning that the risk for dementia increases in proportion to a more inflammatory diet — it is less likely that the increased risk for dementia seen in participants who followed a more inflammatory diet could be explained by other factors, such as other lifestyle habits.
As noted in a MedPage Today article on the study, participants whose DII score fell in the bottom third — indicating less inflammatory potential — consumed a weekly average of 20 servings of fruit, 19 servings of vegetables, four servings of legumes, and 11 servings of coffee or tea. Those whose DII score fell in the top third, on the other hand, consumed a weekly average of only nine servings of fruit, 10 servings of vegetables, two servings of legumes, and nine servings of coffee or tea.
The researchers speculated that the early stages of dementia could have potentially led participants to eat a less healthy diet, so they performed an analysis that took the presence of mild cognitive impairment (a precursor to dementia) at the beginning of the study into account — and found that it didn’t change the results at all. In other words, there’s no evidence that cognitive impairment led people to change their diet. This finding reinforces the notion that a more inflammatory, or less inflammatory, diet may actually have an impact in the risk for dementia. The researchers noted that further studies may lead to detailed recommendations about what to eat, and what to avoid, to help reduce the risk for dementia as people get older.
Want to learn more about maintaining cognitive health with diabetes? Read “Nine Tips to Keep Your Memory With Diabetes,” “Staying Sharp: Seven Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy With Diabetes,” “Keeping Your Brain Strong With Diabetes” and “Memory Fitness: How to Get It, How to Keep It.”
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