Diet and dementia risk

The combination of foods individuals consume may influence dementia risk as much as which foods they eat, new research suggests.

Investigators from the University of Bordeaux in France examined "food networks" and found that individuals whose diets consisted mainly of highly processed and starchy foods were significantly more likely to develop dementia than those whose diets also included processed foods and incorporated a wider variety of healthy foods.

The study was published online April 22 in Neurology

The current findings align with multiple previous studies that show strong associations between specific food groups and the risk for cognitive aging and dementia.

For example, the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes high intake of plant foods and low consumption of meat and dairy, among other factors, is associated with lower risk for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer disease.

Participants came from the 3-City study, an ongoing population-based cohort on dementia launched in 1999-2000. It includes 9294 noninstitutionalized community-dwelling adults older than 65 years from Bordeaux, Dijon, and Montpellier, France.

At 12-year follow-up, 215 participants developed dementia. A total of 209 participants were each matched with two control persons (n = 418).

The researchers found that although there were few differences in the amount of foods individuals ate, overall food networks differed substantially between case participants and control persons.

The food network, or "hub," in those who developed dementia was "strong and focused" and was characterized by what the investigators describe as "charcuterie," which consists of highly processed meat as well as potatoes and other starchy foods, other meats, alcohol, and highly processed snacks.

The study's strengths include its large population and long follow-up. Limitations include potential errors in self-reported food intake and assessment of diet at only one time point.