Women over age 40 who adopt the DASH diet could have a lower risk of cognitive decline as they age, according to a study published this week in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Researchers from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine found that women who followed the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet during middle age were about 17% less likely to experience memory loss and other signs of cognitive decline later in life, according to a press release from the university.
The DASH diet focuses on plant based foods that are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium — including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein. It limits saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar.
The researchers surveyed 5,116 women in their 40s about their dietary habits.
The women were participants in the New York University Women’s Health Study between 1985 and 1991.
Women over age 40 who adopt the DASH diet could have a lower risk of cognitive decline as they age, according to a study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
More than 30 years later, researchers followed up with the women between 2018 and 2020, when their average age was 79 — and asked if they had experienced any of six warning signs of cognitive decline.
Those included difficulties in remembering recent events or shopping lists, understanding spoken instructions or group conversation, or navigating familiar streets, according to the release.
Women who followed the DASH diet reported these occurrences 17% less than those who did not
Yu Chen, PhD, MPH, professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Grossman and senior author of the study, said the findings were not surprising to the research team.
“Recent trial studies have indicated that short-term diet interventions in older age may not provide protection against Alzheimer’s disease,” she told Fox News Digital via email.
The DASH diet focuses on plant-based foods that are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein. It limits saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar.
“However, observational studies consistently show that adhering to a healthy diet, such as the DASH or Mediterranean diet, can help protect against cognitive decline over the long term,” Chen continued.
“The concept here is that adopting a healthy diet starting at a younger age, such as middle age, is more beneficial than making short-term dietary changes in older age.”
Erin Palinski-Wade, a New Jersey dietitian with a focus on diabetes and nutrition, noted that the DASH diet has long been known to improve cardiovascular health and reduce blood pressure levels. She was not involved in the new research.
“Since following the principles of the DASH diet can lower both blood pressure and insulin resistance, it makes sense that the result would benefit the brain as well,” Palinski-Wade said in an interview.
Women who followed the DASH diet during middle age were about 17% less likely to experience memory loss and other cognitive decline issues later in life.
“The big takeaway from this study is that incorporating DASH diet principles earlier in life can have a great impact on future healthy longevity” she went on.
“Although it is never too late to make dietary changes to improve health, the earlier we start making dietary improvements, the better [our] health outcomes can be throughout life.”
Percy Griffin, PhD, director of scientific engagement at the Alzheimer’s Association, said the study adds to the “growing body of research” that suggests a heart healthy diet may be able to reduce or delay the risk of cognitive decline later in life
“The DASH diet, the focus of this study, is aimed at preventing high blood pressure, which is a known risk factor for cognitive decline,” Griffin told Fox News Digital.
“In addition, many of the foods featured in the DASH diet contain properties that may help reduce brain inflammation, another contributor to cognitive decline.”
Women should consider taking steps to reduce cognitive decline well before they reach the age of greatest risk, experts advised
As the average age of the women participating in this study was 46 years old, Griffin noted that one important takeaway is for individuals to consider taking steps to reduce cognitive decline well before they reach the age of greatest risk.
“Addressing modifiable risk factors, such as diet, throughout one’s life offers the best opportunity for people to reduce their risk of cognitive decline,” he said.
The study did have some limitations, Chen acknowledged — primarily that the cognitive complaints were based on self-reports.
“However, studies have found that self-reported complaints can serve as precursors or early signs of subsequent cognitive impairment,” she said.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting an estimated 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older, with women receiving more than two-thirds of diagnoses.
The researchers also did not include women who died or did not respond to the questionnaires.
“These women were more likely to have had a less healthy diet, so if we had included them, the effect we observed would have been more significant,” Chen noted
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting an estimated 6.7 million Americans ages 65 and older, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Women receive more than two-thirds of the diagnoses.