Can a particular diet prevent Alzheimer's disease? The National Institute of Aging has invested heavily in Rush University Medical Center to try to find out.
A $14.5 million NIA grant is supporting a new study led by researchers at Rush that aims to determine if an intervention known as the MIND diet can help prevent Alzheimer's disease.
"This is the first study of its kind designed to test the effects of the MIND diet on the decline of cognitive abilities among a large cohort of individuals 65 years or older without cognitive impairment," said Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush and principal investigator of the study.
Pitting one diet against many others
The MIND Diet Intervention to Prevent Alzheimer Disease is a randomized, five-year, Phase III trial. The study will enroll 600 people of at least 65 years in age who are overweight and have suboptimal diets, which make them vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease.
The trial will compare an intervention and a control group, both of which will receive dietary counseling. The intervention group will be placed on the MIND diet, plus mild caloric restriction for weight loss. The control group members will eat their usual diet with mild caloric restriction for weight loss.
Participants of both treatment groups will have individualized diet plans developed in consultation with case managers, followed by regular personal phone and in-person consultations, as well as group cooking sessions over the three-year intervention. Participants will see data collectors five times over the course of the study for measurement of their cognition, blood pressure, diet, physical activity, health events, medication use, and tissue specimens. A subsample of 300 randomly selected participants will undergo brain MRI at baseline and at three years to test the MIND diet effects on the structural integrity of the brain.
Study includes Harvard, Brigham and Women's, University of Chicago
In addition to the NIA funding, the study is receiving $2 million in grant support from Nestle Health Institute, and food donations by the High Bush Blueberry Council, the Peanut Institute, the International Tree Nut Council and the California Olive Ranch.
Alzheimer's disease is a devastating disease and is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. with the highest drug/treatment failure rate of any disease. While there are currently millions of references promoting a healthy diet for Alzheimer's disease prevention, this study will be the first clinical trial to provide evidence that substantiates causal inference.
"The best way to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the MIND diet and reductions in the incidence of Alzheimer's disease is to conduct a large-scale randomized trial like this one," Morris said. "We hope to show that the MIND diet intervention is an effective strategy for preventing Alzheimer's disease."
The study has two diet intervention sites, Rush in Chicago and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. The centralized laboratories for data coordinating and analyses will be conducted at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's hospital in Boston, and neuroimaging analyses will be conducted at University of Chicago and Rush. Additional specialized laboratories will be used for tissue biochemical analyses.
Morris and her colleagues at Rush and Harvard developed the MIND diet -- which is short for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay -- based on past research about what foods and nutrients have good and bad effects on the functioning of the brain over time. As the name suggests, the MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both diets have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
Two previous studies led by Morris found that the MIND diet could slow cognitive decline and lower a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease significantly, even if the diet was not followed meticulously.
"Though we know that there is a strong link between what a person eats and health, dietary intervention trials to examine whether a change in diet will help prevent Alzheimer's disease and other dementias have been largely neglected," Morris said. "The results of this study should help us to improve brain health by developing new dietary guidelines for clinical use and for public health education."
Rush University Medical Center