Summary: Researchers found that middle-aged women on the DASH diet, aimed at lowering blood pressure, were 17% less likely to experience cognitive decline in their later years.
This discovery has significant ramifications as women constitute over two-thirds of Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses. The study holds potential implications for the anticipated surge in Alzheimer’s cases by 2060.
Researchers emphasized the correlation between adherence to the DASH diet during midlife and reduced cognitive issues in old age.
- The DASH diet, rich in plant-based foods and limited in saturated fats and sugars, is known for mitigating high blood pressure risks, a known factor for cognitive decline.
- The long-term study involved analysis from over 5,116 women; those strictly following the DASH diet reported a 17% decrease in the odds of having multiple cognitive complaints.
- Alzheimer’s disease, the leading form of dementia, affected around 6.5 million Americans over 65 in 2022 and is projected to double by 2060.
Source: NYU Langone
Women with diets during middle age designed to lower blood pressure were about 17 percent less likely to report memory loss and other signs of cognitive decline decades later, a new study finds.
Led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the new findings suggest that a mid-life lifestyle modification – adoption of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet – may improve cognitive function later in life for women, who make up more than two-thirds of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent form of dementia.
The findings, published online today in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia , have implications for the approximately 6.5 million Americans over age 65 diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2022. That number is expected to more than double by 2060.
“Subjective complaints about daily cognitive performance are early predictors of more serious neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s,” said Yu Chen, PhD, MPH, professor in the Department of Population Health and senior author of the study. “With more than 30 years follow-up, we found that the stronger the adherence to a DASH diet in midlife, the less likely women are to report cognitive issues much later in life.”
The DASH diet includes a high consumption of plant-based foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium and limits saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar. Longstanding research shows that high blood pressure, particularly in midlife, is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.
How the Study was Conducted
The investigators analyized data from 5,116 of the more than 14,000 women enrolled in the NYU Women’s Health Study, one of the longest running studies of its kind that examines the impact of lifestyle and other factors on the development of the most common cancers among women, as well as other chronic conditions.
The researchers queried the study participants’ diet using questionnaires between 1985 and 1991 at study enrollment when the participants were, on average, 49 years old. The participants were followed for more than 30 years (average age of 79) and then asked to report any cognitive complaints. Participants that did not return questionnaires were contacted by phone.
Self-reported cognitive complaints were assessed using six validated standard questions that are indicative of later mild cognitive impairment, which leads to dementia. These questions were about difficulties in remembering recent events or shopping lists, understanding spoken instructions or group conversation, or navigating familier streets.
Of the six cognitive complaints, 33 percent of women reported having more than one. Women who adhered most closely to the DASH diet had a 17 percent reduction in the odds of reporting multiple cognitive complaints.
“Our data suggest that it is important to start a healthy diet in midlife to prevent cognitive impairment in older age”, said Yixiao Song , a lead author of the study.
“Following the DASH diet may not only prevent high blood pressure, but also cognitive issues,” said Fen Wu, PhD, an senior associate research scientist and co-led the study.
According to the investigators, future research is needed across multiple racial and ethnic groups to determine the generalizability of the findings.
Funding: The study is supported by the National Institutes of Health, grant U01 CA182934.
Other investigators from NYU Grossman School of Medicine include Sneha Sharma, Tess V. Clendenen, Sandra India-Aldana, PhD, MPH, Yelena Afanasyeva, MS, Karen L. Koenig, PhD, Anne Zeleniuch-Jacquotte,PhD; and Yian Gu, MD, PhD, Columbia University.
About this diet and cognition research news
Original Research: Open access.
“Mid-life adherence to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and late-life subjective cognitive complaints in women” by Yu Chen et al. Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Mid-life adherence to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and late-life subjective cognitive complaints in women
Evidence is limited on the role of mid-life Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet in late-life subjective cognitive complaints (SCCs).
We included 5116 women (mean age in 1985–1991: 46 years) from the New York University Women’s Health Study. SCCs were assessed from 2018 to 2020 (mean age: 79 years) by a 6-item questionnaire.
Compared to women in the bottom quartile of the DASH scores, the odds ratio (OR) for having two or more SCCs was 0.83 (95% confidence interval: 0.70–0.99) for women in the top quartile of DASH scores at baseline (P for trend = 0.019). The association was similar with multiple imputation and inverse probability weighting to account for potential selection bias. The inverse association was stronger in women without a history of cancer (P for interaction = 0.003).
Greater adherence to the DASH diet in mid-life was associated with lower prevalence of late-life SCCs in women.