Processed meats at the centre of a diet linked to dementia risk


By Alex Smith | Wednesday 22 April 2020

Researchers in France have found that different combinations of food that form the basis of a person’s diet, particularly diets high in processed meats and snack foods may be associated with the risk of dementia. The research was published online, in the scientific journal Neurology.

While a lot of previous research has looked at the quantity and kind of specific foods that go into a person’s diet, this research analysed overall dietary patterns and looked at which foods were eaten in combination.

Who and what did the researchers study?

Researchers studied healthy volunteers living in three French cities – Bordeaux, Dijon and Montpellier.

Over 1,500 volunteers filled out a survey about the food they ate at the start of the study. Researchers followed the volunteers for over the course of 12 years. In this time, 215 people went on to develop dementia.

Using the information from the survey, researchers looked for patterns in food consumption, which were linked with dementia cases 12 years later.

What was linked with dementia?

Researchers found that a consumption of charcuterie – processed meats – was also linked to the consumption of snack foods, and this characterised a diet more likely to be linked with the cases of dementia.

A wider range of healthier combinations were found in the group with no dementia cases.

What our expert said:

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Currently dementia is a terminal illness and once a disease like Alzheimer’s gets underway in the brain there are no treatments that can stop the condition from progressing. Understanding the different factors that affect our dementia risk is vital for finding new ways to reduce the number of people who develop the condition in the future.

“This study adds to existing evidence about the importance of a varied diet that is low in processed meat and dairy but rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, beans, nuts, fish and ‘healthy’ fats like olive oil.

“We should treat these results with caution, as the study relied on participants accurately filling out a survey, rather than having their food intake monitored. Further research is needed to understand whether a healthy diet might affect dementia risk in combination with other aspects of healthy living or for particular people with an increased risk of dementia.

“While a balanced diet is one way we can help to maintain a healthy brain, the best current evidence points to a number of other lifestyle factors that can also play a role. These include not smoking, staying mentally and physically active, drinking within the recommended guidelines and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check.”

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Alex Smith