Diet and Dementia in Women

Until scientists come up with cure, one of the best ways to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease is to follow a healthy diet.

More and more research on the topic of diet and dementia seems to suggest that what you eat can influence whether you’ll develop Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia as you age.

While we need more studies to confirm this, upgrading your diet can’t hurt. Not only will it make you feel better, it helps keep you healthy in other ways.

The Link Between Diet and Dementia

When it comes to women and Alzheimer’s disease, every bit of protection helps, since they’re twice as likely to get it as men.

Age is the main risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease: the older you get, the more likely you are to get it. Alzheimer’s can run in families, too. So where does healthy eating come in?

For one thing, people who have health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease are more likely to develop all kinds of dementia. All these health conditions are linked to unhealthy eating patterns. It makes sense, then, that a diet that helps prevent chronic illnesses might also ward off dementia.

The connection goes deeper than that, though. Scientists think some diets and  nutrients help protect your brain from chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which are thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. (Oxidative stress is what happens when you have too many harmful molecules, called free radicals, in your cells.) It is what makes antioxidants so good for you.

So far, it looks like the diets that work best to protect your brain have a couple of things in common. They’re mostly plant-based, whole foods, and they limit highly processed “junk” foods.

What Is the MIND Diet?

You’ve probably heard of the Mediterranean diet, a diet rich in veggies, fruits, beans, whole grains and seafood, but low in meat, sugar and saturated fat. You may also know about Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or the DASH diet. It’s similar to the Mediterranean approach but focuses on nutrients like potassium to reduce blood pressure.

The aptly named MIND diet (it stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) combines elements of these two heart-healthy eating plans. It also emphasizes foods that have been linked to dementia prevention, like berries and leafy greens.

Research has linked both the Mediterranean and MIND diets to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and slower rates of cognitive decline in older people.  In fact, one large study found that people over 50 who closely followed either diet reduced their risk for cognitive impairment (thinking problems) by up to 35%!

The MIND Diet and Women

It’s not clear whether the MIND diet might have benefits for women in particular. A study that followed more than 16,000 women ages 70 and up showed that those who stuck to the MIND diet over several years tended to score better on verbal memory tests. But the diet didn’t seem to affect their overall declines in brain function.

Some research has failed to turn up any connection between diet and dementia. A long-term study featured in Neurology involving more than 28,000 women found that neither a version of the Mediterranean diet nor a conventional healthy diet reduced their risk for dementia, which suggests there may be other biological factors involved.

For example, several studies suggest estrogen may be contributing to the link between women and Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s worth noting that all these studies were observational, which means the people who took part in them were responsible for reporting what they ate. That sometimes leads to errors.

What Women Can Do to Boost Brain Health

While scientists continue researching what diet might best protect against dementia and why, consider making some lifestyle changes that can boost body and brain health:

  • Follow a heart-healthy diet that limits fat and includes plenty of produce, like the Mediterranean diet. Try to “eat the rainbow.” Colorful fruits and veggies are rich in antioxidants, substances that counteract the molecules that cause oxidative stress.
  • Get regular exercise, especially heart-healthy activities like swimming or Zumba that raise your heart rate and increase blood flow to your brain. In general, doctors recommend 30 minutes of movement at least five days out of the week.
  • Stay mentally active by keeping up your social connections and doing things that challenge your mind. Choose activities you enjoy, whether that’s doing needlecrafts, traveling the world, or taking adult education classes at your local college.
  • Keep your blood pressure under control to lower your odds of having heart disease or a stroke – and thus maybe Alzheimer’s disease, too. Get your numbers checked regularly, and follow any treatment plan your doctor recommends.

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Information provided on this page is for informational and educational purposes. The information provided should not be considered a substitute for individual medical assessment, diagnosis or treatment by your medical provider or physician. In you or someone in your care has a medical problem, contact your doctor or mental health provider.


An innovative new concept in memory care, Serenades For Her caters to a woman’s need for the utmost privacy and comfort. All-female neighborhoods feature robust social programming with specialized dementia care to create a sense of sisterhood and mutual support for women.