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Veganism and dementia: an opinion piece

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I love food, as I’m sure a lot of people do. Whether it be the smell of your favourite meal or the memory of cooking with a loved one, the majority of us would call food an experience rather than something we’re told we have to do 3 times a day. 3 years ago I committed to a vegetarian diet in order to regain a bit of control over my health. I didn’t realise it would completely reshape my relationship with food. I was even more surprised that I began to enjoy it. It’s only recently that I began to investigate some of the health benefits of certain diets. Here I’ll break down what scientists have found about diet and its impact on a person with dementia.

Over 25 years ago, scientists discovered that people on vegetarian diets experience the symptoms of dementia later in life. Meat eaters may be twice as likely than vegans to be diagnosed with dementia (Giem et al 1993). Research has been found that meat-free diets can help reduce blood pressure and the levels of fat travelling around the body. Also, vegan/vegetarian diets could be considered beneficial as they are free from the high salt content found in processed meats (de la Monte 2014). However, it is important to note that salts are present in all preserved foods – so whether you are eating preserved vegetables or preserved meats you are consuming a high level of salt. A key take-home message is that the quality of food is very important to your health.

It is also known that meat-free diets make a person more likely to suffer from a lack of vitamin B (Osimani et al 2005). A lack of vitamin B can lead to cognitive problems that can contribute to dementia if left untreated. Interestingly, a pescatarian diet (a diet free of meat but based on fish, fruits and vegetables) can reduce the severity of cognitive problems in someone who has already been diagnosed with dementia (Willams and O’Connell 2002).

If the ‘perfect diet’ does exist, we haven’t found it yet. What we do know is that even though you may not be what you eat, what you eat can have a large impact on your health. That being said, before deciding to take the drastic change in diet to veganism, it is important to remember that moderation is very important in order for lifestyle changes to be healthy and influence a long-lasting and positive change. Making your diet is balanced and appropriate for your lifestyle is more important than following any trends. Be sure to consult medical professionals before committing to drastic dietary changes.

 

For further reading on the subject, please visit: https://www.alzdiscovery.org/cognitive-vitality/blog/vegetarian-and-vegan-diets-for-brain-health

 

References

Giem P, Beeson W, L, Fraser G, E: The Incidence of Dementia and Intake of Animal Products: Preliminary Findings from the Adventist Health Study. Neuroepidemiology 1993;12:28-36. doi: 10.1159/000110296

Risk factors for dementia factsheet 2016, Factsheet 450LP Alzheimer’s Research UK Accessed 28.12.18 https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf/factsheet_risk_factors_for_dementia.pdf

Osimani A, Berger A, Friedman J, et al (2005) Neuropsychology of vitamin B12 deficiency in elderly dementia patients and control subjects. J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol 18:33–38. doi: 10.1177/0891988704272308

Williams JH, O’Connell TC (2002) Differential relations between cognition and 15N isotopic content of hair in elderly people with dementia and controls. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 57:M797-802

de la Monte SM (2014) Type 3 diabetes is sporadic Alzheimers disease: mini-review. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 24:1954–1960. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2014.06.008

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