Dementia, or severe cognitive impairment, can take several different forms — the best known of which is probably Alzheimer’s disease. The risk of developing dementia increases with age, but there are many other factors known to contribute to a person’s dementia risk. People with diabetes are considered to be at higher risk for dementia, especially if they have poor blood glucose control. Studies also suggest that both high and low blood glucose levels may contribute to dementia in people with type 1 diabetes. Certain lifestyle and environmental factors have been linked to a greater risk for dementia, including a higher intake of inflammatory foods and greater exposure to air pollution. Recent studies have also shown that moderate physical activity may help protect against dementia, and that following a mostly plant-based diet may also help prevent the condition.
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For the latest study, researchers used data from 3,739 adults ages 40-64 in Japan who took dietary surveys between 1985 and 1999. Based on their responses, researchers estimated their daily fiber intake and compared it with their risk for developing advanced dementia during a follow-up period lasting from 1999 to 2020. Specifically, the researchers looked at the incidence of “disabling dementia,” meaning dementia that requires a caretaker. They also looked separately at whether people who developed advanced dementia had a history of stroke.
Higher fiber intake linked to lower dementia risk
During a median follow-up period of 19.7 years, a total of 670 participants (17.9%) developed advanced dementia. The researchers found that across the board, a higher fiber intake was linked to a lower dementia risk. Compared with the quarter of participants with the lowest fiber intake, those in the quarter with the second-lowest fiber intake were 17% less likely to develop advanced dementia, followed by a 19% and 26% lower dementia risk for the groups with the second-highest and highest fiber intake. This reduced dementia risk was most evident when it came to intake of soluble fiber — a category of fiber that can be dissolved in water — and for people without a history of stroke who developed dementia. When it came to specific fiber-containing foods, a higher intake of potatoes was linked to a lower dementia risk, but a higher intake of fruits and vegetables was not.
The researchers concluded that total fiber intake — and especially soluble fiber intake — was linked to a lower risk for advanced dementia in the study group, and that not all high-fiber foods appeared to offer the same level of benefit. Further studies, ideally involving more diverse populations, could be designed to help determine which dietary sources of fiber offer the greatest protection against dementia.
Want to learn more about maintaining cognitive health with diabetes? Read “Nine Tips to Keep Your Memory With Diabetes,” “Keeping Your Brain Strong With Diabetes” and “Memory Fitness: How to Get It, How to Keep It.”