Plant-based diet may help depression, dementia

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A new study in the July 6, 2010, issue of Neurology suggests that having depression boosts the  risk of developing dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease. 

The study merely showed an association; the results do not determine whether or not depression causes demention, or vice versa. 

The study involved 949 people at an average age of 79 years, who were free of dementia; however, 125 of them were diagnosed with depression at the beginning of the study. 

At the end of the 17-year follow-up, 164 participants developed dementia; of those participants, 136 were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. 

Jane Saczynski, PhD, author of the study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA and colleagues found that 22 percent of those who had depression at baseline ended up developing dementia at the end of the study, compared to 17 percent of those who were not depressed.  

Dr. Saczyynski said that even though depression may not necessarily cause dementia, it is possible that something like inflammation of brain tissue contributes to depression and an increased risk of dementia. 

Indeed, that is a possibility.  Diet is most assuredly one thing that may affect risk of both depression and dementia.

A study led by Nanri A and colleagues from the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo, Japan shows that a plant-based diet protects against depression.

Nanri found a healthy Japanese diet, consisting of high amounts of vegetables, fruit, mushrooms and soy products was associated with fewer depressive symptoms.

Nanri's findings were reported online in the May 19,2010 edition of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Another study led by Hughes T.F.(and colleagues) from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine suggests that those who consume moderate or high amounts of fruit and vegetables in midlife may help cut their risk of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, in later life.

The association was particularly significant among women,especially those with angina pectoris in midlife, according to the study published in the May 2010 issue of the American Journal of Geriatry and Psychiatry.

In addition to Nanri's dietary findings, the Mediterranean diet may also help those with dementia.

Peart C. and colleagues from Université Victor Ségalen Bordeaux 2 in Bordeaux, France wrote in their report "A high adherence to the Mediterranean diet has been associated with slower cognitive decline, with reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment conversion to Alzheimer's disease and with reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease."  "Mild cognitive impairment" is a prestage of Alzheimer's.

The study was published in the Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care.

Additionally, the Mediterranean diet may also stave off depression.

A new study reported in the October 2009 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that eating a Mediterranean style diet may reduce risk of depression.

Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, B. Pharm., Ph.D. and colleagues surveyed 10,094 healthy Spanish men and women between 1999 and 2005 for their consumption of various foods including fat, alcohol, dairy products, meat, legumes, fruit, nuts, cereals, vegetables and fish, which are commonly used in Mediterranean diet. 

After the 4.4-year follow-up, the researchers identified 480 new cases of depression, including 156 in men and 324 in women and they found those who most closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet had a greater than 30 percent reduction in the risk of depression than those who least adhered to the diet.

In a word, both depression and dementia may share the same cause(s).  A healthy lifestyle, which includes a healthy diet,  could be extemely important in preventing these disorders.

By David Liu and editing by Rachel Stockton

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