Changes to diet could slash your dementia risk by nine times

Dr Zoe says walking can reduce risk of dementia

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Dementia is a syndrome, which is a group of symptoms, related to the progressive decline of the brain. More prevalent among older people, it can lead to memory loss, behavioural changes and even movement. Although there is no cure a new study has found certain lifestyle choices can significantly cut your risk of dementia.

The paper, published in the British Medical Journal, has concluded that improving your diet and lifestyle slashes your future risk of developing dementia by a massive nine times

It also showed that whether or not you inherit ApoE4, the gene for Alzheimer’s disease that one in five people carry, it makes no difference to the positive reduction in risk achievable by these changes.

Eating a healthy diet was found to be the most important prevention step, followed by an active lifestyle.

Your intellectual life and social interactions were the next most important steps.

Eating a healthy diet was about twice as important as exercise in predicting cognitive decline.

As part of the research, around 30,000 people aged 60 and older were studied over a decade.

Those with a healthy diet were about seven times less likely to have age-related cognitive decline or dementia than those with an “average” diet and about nine times less likely to develop dementia than those with an “unfavourable” diet.

The assessment of a healthy diet was based on intake of fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and tea, among other foods known to predict lower risk.

Other unhealthy lifestyle factors considered included smoking and drinking alcohol.

“These results provide an optimistic outlook, as they suggest that although genetic risk is not modifiable, a combination of more healthy lifestyle factors are associated with a slower rate of memory decline, regardless of the genetic risk,” the study said.

It concluded: “A healthy lifestyle is associated with slower memory decline, even in the presence of the APOE ε4 allele.

“This study might offer important information to protect older adults against memory decline.”

The results of the study were welcomed by charity Food for the Brain, which has been conducting its own research over the last decade to help people reduce their risk of age-related cognitive decline.

Professor David Smith from the University of Oxford, who is one of the charity’s scientific advisors, commented: “Genes can only exert effects via non-genetic mechanisms and these mechanisms are often susceptible to modification by, for example, improving one’s diet.

“This study shows that diet and lifestyle are much more important than inheriting a gene variant such as ApoE4.

“Less than one percent of Alzheimer’s is directly caused by genes. With no clinically effective drugs, and minimal role of genes, this study confirms that the focus must be on making diet and lifestyle changes that reduce risk of developing dementia, as Food for the Brain [the charity] are doing.

“It also shows that switching from an average to a healthy lifestyle, with positive diet changes being key, can dramatically reduce a person’s future risk of developing cognitive decline and dementia.”

Another member of their science team, Doctor Celeste de Jager Loots, added: “The emphasis needs to be on changing diet and lifestyle, especially since one cannot change one’s genes.

“The earlier one starts with a healthy lifestyle the better the chance of preventing effects of genetic risk.”

To assess your own risk for dementia you can complete the Food for Brain online cognitive test at

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