Doing This When You Eat Could Help Prevent Alzheimer's, New Study Says

Early research shows promising results.

Surveys show that Alzheimer's disease (AD) is among the most dreaded diagnoses a person can receive. In fact, according to the Alzheimer's Society, roughly half of people fear a dementia diagnosis, and 62 percent believe it would mean their "life is over."

However, the fact remains that few among us take active steps to prevent Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. The Mayo Clinic says that while there's no one way to definitively prevent Alzheimer's, evidence shows that there are several interventions which may, together, help lower your AD risk. These include following a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking, managing your blood pressure, avoiding head injuries, staying socially active, and more. Read on to learn about one additional intervention you can try when you eat, and why a new study says it may help prevent Alzheimer's.

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Certain dietary changes can help slash your Alzheimer's risk.

woman eating salad with chicken
Farknot Artchitect / Shutterstock

Though many factors may help lower your Alzheimer's risk, experts say changing your diet is one of the simplest and most effective things you can do, after getting daily exercise. "Many studies suggest that what we eat affects the aging brain's ability to think and remember," the National Institute on Aging (NIA) explains. "It's possible that eating a certain diet affects biological mechanisms, such as oxidative stress and inflammation, that underlie Alzheimer's. Or perhaps diet works indirectly by affecting other Alzheimer's risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. A new avenue of research focuses on the relationship between gut microbes—tiny organisms in the digestive system—and aging-related processes that lead to Alzheimer's."

The organization emphasizes the importance of consuming fresh fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based, whole foods. "The Mediterranean diet, the related MIND diet (which includes elements designed to lower blood pressure), and other healthy eating patterns have been associated with cognitive benefits in studies," the NIA writes.

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Doing this when you eat could help prevent Alzheimer's, a new study suggests.

Man makes a list of healthy food. Healthy lifestyle diet food concept

Some experts suggest it's not just what you eat, but also your portions and eating patterns, that make an impact on cognitive health. Once hunters and gatherers who experienced longer stretches of hunger between meals, many say that our uninterrupted access to high-calorie, highly processed foods increases our incidence of Alzheimer's.

Now, a recent study has explored the value of a fasting mimicking diet (FMD), one that essentially tricks the body into a fast-like state while still consuming calories, as a means for reducing Alzheimer's risk. Though the study used mice as subjects, researchers say the results suggest that this type of diet could, in fact, have a positive impact on cognitive health. The team observed that mice who underwent FMD cycles showed reductions in tau pathology and amyloid beta—peptides and proteins that form dementia-causing plaques in the brain—compared to mice eating a standard diet.

Here's what the plan entails.

Older couple cooking together

Unlike most other fasting-related diet plans, the FMD plan has specific requirements about the nutrients you consume. "The fasting mimicking diet is a reduced-calorie diet with a specific macro- and micronutrient breakdown that makes your body think it's fasting while still allowing you to consume reduced amounts of food," Kristine Dilley, a dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Comprehensive Weight Management Clinic in Columbus, tells U.S. News & World Report.

A single cycle of FMD lasts for five days, and is typically repeated once per month. "On day one, you consume 1,100 calories. Of those calories, 11 percent should come from protein, 46 percent from fat and 43 percent from carbohydrate," explains U.S. News. "On days two through five, you'll consume just 725 calories per day, with a macronutrient breakdown of nine percent protein, 44 percent fat and 47 percent carbohydrate," the publication reports. People following a fasting mimicking diet should drink at least 70 ounces of water daily and avoid caffeine, they add.

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Other forms of intermittent fasting also appear to lower Alzheimer's risk.

woman waiting to eat with clock intermittent fasting
Pheelings media / Shutterstock

Researchers have reached similar conclusions regarding other intermittent fasting diet plans, including time-restricted eating, alternate day fasting, and others. "In animal studies, intermittent fasting has been shown to increase longevity, improve cognitive function and reduce brain plaque as compared with animals fed a regular diet," Allan Anderson, MD, Director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Tucson told the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry. "One hypothesis is that intermittent fasting enables cells to remove damaged proteins. It has been shown to delay the onset and progression of disease in animal models of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's."

Before trying any new diet plan—especially a calorie-restricting diet plan—always discuss it with your healthcare provider. "Intermittent fasting is not safe for some people, including people who are pregnant, children, people at risk for hypoglycemia or people with certain chronic diseases," the Cleveland Clinic notes.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more