Cognitive decline is a significant concern particularly in women as they navigate through the course of aging. Memories fading, compromised decision-making, troubled money handling, dependencies escalating, hardly communicating, things not comprehending – elderly people grappling with cognitive impairment face many challenges in their advanced age.

Though it’s difficult to halt these age-related phenomena, cultivating a healthy lifestyle and prioritizing nutritional well-being prove to be a pivotal investment for aging gracefully.

The DASH diet, renowned for its cardiovascular benefits, has recently emerged as a beacon of potential in the realm of cognitive wellness. Claims have been made that adopting a DASH diet not only addresses the immediate health concerns but also mitigates the risks of cognitive decline in women in the later stages of life.

What is the DASH diet and how it can help women to remain sane during their seniority years? Let’s find out!

Why Women are Particularly at Risk of Having Cognitive Decline in Old Age?

lonely-woman-confronting-alzheimer-disease
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Women have a higher risk of developing dementia and cognition-affecting disorders, like Alzheimer’s during their lifetime, estimated to be about 2 to 5.31 times greater than that of men.1

Similarly, a  study conducted among U.S. adults found that women, in comparison to men, had a more rapid and significant decline in the overall cognition and executive functions of the brain especially those involved in planning, problem-solving and time management.2

The higher likelihood of cognitive decline among women can be attributed to the differences in sex hormones, psychosocial factors, as well as their gender roles, like work, education and lifestyle.

Besides, females have relatively smaller gray matter volumes as well as lesser axonal integrity in their brains. These structural differences make women more vulnerable to age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases. 

What is the DASH diet?

The term ‘DASH’ is an acronym for the ‘Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension’. It is basically a meal plan which helps in the prevention and management of high blood pressure and is, therefore, recommended for hypertensive patients. The primary focus of a DASH diet is to promote heart health and reduce the risks of cardiovascular diseases.

DASH diet

The DASH diet was first introduced in the 1990s after experts noted that hypertension was much less common among people following a plant-based diet. Based on these eating patterns, a DASH diet has been designed which particularly emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables and lean protein with a low intake of salts, fat, red meat and added sugars.

According to the National Institute of Health, a daily 2000-calorie DASH diet comprises;

  • Fruits – 4 to 5 servings
  • Vegetables – 4 to 5 servings
  • Lean meat products (meat, poultry, fish) – 6 or less servings
  • Grains – 6 to 8 servings
  • Fats and oils – 2 to 3 servings
  • Sodium – 2,300mg

DASH Diet Reduces Risks of Cognitive Decline in Women – A New Study

A heart-healthy diet lowers blood pressure and also decreases the risks of various cardiovascular diseases. However, recently, a new study has revealed that women who follow a DASH diet in their mids are also less likely to suffer from memory loss and cognitive decline in old age.

The claim is coming from research published in the journal of Alzheimer’s & Dementia, in October 2023. Out of the 14,000 women enrolled in the NYU Women’s Health Study, the current prospective study was conducted in 5,116 middle-aged women.

Participants were asked about their diet and were later followed for the next three decades. At the end of the study, they were requested to fill out questionnaires comprising six questions related to cognitive impairment that could lead to dementia. 

Overall, one-third of the participants reported having more than one cognitive issue. However, researchers observed that women who were more closely following the DASH diet had 17% lesser chances of experiencing cognitive decline in old age. 3

How DASH Diet Prevent the Cognitive Decline in Women?

Several potential mechanisms have been proposed which explain the positive impact of the DASH diet on cognitive functions.

Experts believe that these beneficial effects stem from the abundant antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients found in vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes. It has been hypothesized that these essential nutrients not only reduce oxidative stress but also promote neurogenesis (formation of nerve cells) and neural connectivity within the brain.

Moreover, the DASH diet also keeps high blood pressure in check which is itself a risk factor for cognitive impairment in elderly people. 

Another possible explanation is the limited intake of sugary foods and red/processed meat. Eating a heart-healthy diet protects against the harmful effects of fat and sugar on brain inflammation, and also decreases the production of beta-amyloids, the proteins involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Lastly, researchers presumed that these cognition-preserving effects could also be linked to the improvements in gut microbiome which alleviate the risks of cognitive decline by reducing inflammation in the body.

Bottom Line

Adherence to the DASH diet in the mid-life is a potent strategy for preserving optimal cognitive functions in women in old age. By offering amazing antioxidant benefits and good blood pressure control, the DASH diet stands as a promising tool for promoting cognitive resilience and graceful longevity.

(Read out the tips for healthy aging)

References

  1. Chen HF, Jiang JY, Chen MH, Lin R, Jerence SW, Chang CH, Chou CC. Gender differences in cognitive function and its associated factors among older adults with type 2 diabetes. Geriatric Nursing. 2023 Jul 1;52:165-71.
  2. Levine DA, Gross AL, Briceño EM, Tilton N, Giordani BJ, Sussman JB, Hayward RA, Burke JF, Hingtgen S, Elkind MS, Manly JJ. Sex differences in cognitive decline among US adults. JAMA network open. 2021 Feb 1;4(2):e210169-.
  3. Song Y, Wu F, Sharma S, Clendenen TV, India‐Aldana S, Afanasyeva Y, Gu Y, Koenig KL, Zeleniuch‐Jacquotte A, Chen Y. Mid‐life adherence to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and late‐life subjective cognitive complaints in women. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2023 Oct 20.
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