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Neurosurgery and Psychiatry

Delving deeper, Americans are living longer, but over 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese and diabetes rates are climbing (over a third have diabetes or prediabetes). What is good or bad for the heart is also good or bad for the brain.

What are the common lifestyle factors influencing the heart and brain? Diet, exercise, sleep, and mental acuity are the most prominent and, fortunately, modifiable factors.

In the past, the majority of diet research focused on individual nutrients. However, with this approach it is difficult to show much difference since we don’t eat single nutrients. Past research has shown there is not enough data to support reduction or prevention of AD by omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, or B vitamins by themselves, such as in supplement form. However, some research has shown low levels of vitamin D are associated with higher risk of AD.

However, in the last several years there has been renewed study in eating patterns to support brain health. The Mediterranean diet, first named in 1993 but eaten for over 4,000 years in the 22 countries of the Mediterranean region, has shown great promise in promoting and maintaining brain health. Studies in Spain that began in the early 2000s and continue today have demonstrated declines in heart attacks and strokes and improved cognition when participants were following Mediterranean eating patterns. Longer life, less diabetes and fewer cancers, and lower rates of childhood obesity are also seen. The diet focuses on consumption of more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, olive oil, water, and fish and shellfish; smaller amounts of cheese, yogurt, and poultry; and least amounts of red meats and sweets. A moderate amount of red wine is included. This eating pattern also includes little processed foods, so overall it is lower in sodium and sugar, as well as saturated and trans fats. It is higher in fiber, potassium, antioxidants, and healthy fats compared the typical Western diet. The research is so compelling about the healthfulness that this eating pattern has now been recognized and recommended in the newest 2015–2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines