Diet high in inflammation linked with increased risk of dementia, study suggests

11 November 2021

Researchers have linked a high inflammatory diet – food associated with markers of inflammation – with an increased risk of dementia. The medical journal, Neurology, published the findings today (Wednesday 10 November).

What did the researchers do?

Over 1,000 volunteers self-reported what foods they ate within the previous month in a questionnaire. Researchers used this information to determine the inflammatory potential of a person’s diet. Higher scores show a more inflammatory diet, including fewer fruits, vegetables, beans and tea or coffee. Researchers then split the volunteers into three groups: those with the lowest score, medium scores, and highest scores.

What did the scientists find?

They found that 62 of the 1,059 people who took part in the study develop dementia. Compared to the volunteers who consumed the least inflammatory foods, those who had the highest scores were around three times more likely to develop dementia.

Our expert comment

“Understanding how brain inflammation impacts dementia risk is a hot topic in research. Scientists are now finding inflammation in the brain is finely balanced, with both too little and too much linked with longer-term problems.

“In this study, researchers used self-reported dietary information and found a link between a diet high in foods that may lead to inflammation and an increased risk of dementia. While intriguing, this study can’t tell us for sure that people’s diet was the sole cause of the increased dementia risk, and we know dementia risk is complex with many other factors at play.

“While there is no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, we do know that positive lifestyle changes can reduce our risk of developing the condition. The best current evidence suggests that controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, and maintaining a healthy weight alongside not smoking, drinking within the recommended limits, and staying mentally and physically active can all help us to maintain a healthy brain as we age.

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Read the full paper ‘Diet Inflammatory Index and Dementia Incidence: A Population-Based Study’ in the medical journal, Neurology.