Women with Heart Healthy Diet in Midlife May Be Lowering Their Risk of Cognitive Issues Later

A healthy heart is good for the brain. In fact, past research has found that multiple heart issues may be a bigger predictor of dementia than genetics, and having high blood pressure as early as your 30s could lead to cognitive issues later. A new study adds more evidence to the notion that focusing on our heart when we’re younger can translate to better brain health in old age.

Strawberries in a heart-shaped bowl

Research recently published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, investigated the link between adherence to the DASH diet in midlife and cognitive complaints in older age. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet aims to prevent or treat high blood pressure through healthy meal planning. The researchers looked at how the diet specifically impacted women, who make up more than two-thirds of Alzheimer’s cases. According to the study findings, the DASH diet may reduce the chances of women being impacted by the disease.

Dr. Yu Chen, senior author and professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine’s Department of Population Health, says, “Subjective complaints about daily cognitive performance are early predictors of more serious neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. 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.”

Vegetables laying on a wood table

The more than 5,000 women involved in the study were recruited into the NYU Women’s Health Study between 1985 and 1991, when they were an average age of 46. At this time, they were quizzed on their diets. Then, between 2018 and 2020, when they were an average age of 79, they were given a six-question survey regarding cognitive complaints. Questions focus on issues like remembering recent events, navigating familiar streets, and understanding spoken instructions, and can be predictors of mild cognitive impairment.

A third of women reported having more than one of six cognitive complaints. However, those with the highest adherence to the DASH diet had a 17% lower rate of these issues. The team says more research needs to be done, especially with a more diverse study group. However, their findings indicate that if you want to protect your cognitive health as you age, you may want to start eating heart healthy decades sooner.

Place setting with quinoa and vegetables

The study authors write, “These findings suggest that improvements in diet quality during mid-life, especially the diet related to hypertension and cardiovascular profile, may have a role in maintaining an optimal subjective cognitive function among women.”

Did you know there are other heart healthy activities that may lower dementia risk? Read about them here!

Two heart-shaped bowls of fruit
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