The Alzheimer’s Society states that a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of developing problems with memory and thinking, and reduces the risk of getting some forms of dementia.
Five common types of dementia – an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive conditions that affect the brain – are: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia.
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Alzheimer’s disease is the most common strain of dementia, named after Alois Alzheimer, the doctor who first described it.
Inside the brain there are billions of nerve cells that connect to one another. In Alzheimer’s disease, a build-up of protein – called ‘plaques’ or ‘tangles’ – block these connections, leading to nerve cells dying and brain tissue being lost.
This type of dementia is progressive, meaning over time the brain becomes more and more damaged.
This is the second most common type of dementia, caused by the reduction in blood supply to the brain.
Blood is delivered to the brain through a network of vessels called the vascular system.
If blood vessels within the vascular system are damaged – say they leak or become blocked – then blood can’t reach the brain cells.
Brain cells need a constant supply of blood to bring oxygen and nutrients to function properly, otherwise they die and can cause problems with memory, thinking or reasoning.
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Dementia with Lewy bodies
Lewy bodies are named after the German doctor who first identified them.
They are tiny deposits of a protein (alpha-synuclein) that appear in nerve cells in the brain, and it also causes Parkinson’s disease.
Frontotemporal dementia is an uncommon type of dementia that mainly affects the front and sides of the brain that causes problems with behaviour and language.
Mixed dementia means a blending of more than one type of dementia. It tends to be a mixture of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, and is seen to affect those aged 75 and older.
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The Mediterranean diet – influenced by countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Italy and Spain – is rich in fruits, vegetables,legumes and cereals, with moderate consumption of oily fish and dairy.
The health-boosting menu also incorporates healthy unsaturated fats, such as olive oil.
The Alzheimer’s Society confirms that scientific evidence shows a diet full of fruit, vegetables and cereals – and low in red meat and sugar – could help reduce dementia risks.
The care and research charity go on to say that “high levels of antioxidants from the high intake of fruits and vegetables may help to protect against some of the damage to brain cells associated with Alzheimer’s disease”.
Adding that the high levels of antioxidants increase “the levels of proteins in the brain that protect brain cells from damage”.
“There are suggestions that the diet reduces the signs of inflammation [in the brain],” it continues.
To clarify, inflammation in the case of Alzheimer’s refers to chemical changes within the brain’s immune system.
The diet is “also linked to lower levels of cholesterol, which recent research has suggested may be associated with memory and thinking problems”.
The Alzheimer’s Society recommends eating certain foods, taking regular exercise, not smoking and maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels to help reduce the risk of suffering from the disease.
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