How diet and weight gain may increase dementia risk

There's nothing we can do to prevent ageing. But there is a lot we can do to age well. Doing what we can to improve our health during midlife can help reduce risks for the types of diseases we don't want limiting our enjoyment in life in our later years.

One disease associated with older age groups is dementia and the older we become, the more likely we are to develop this life limiting affliction. Dementia affects around a quarter of people aged over 80 with women accounting for two thirds of sufferers. Generally, scientists and doctors agree that while some drugs can be used to slow down progression of the disease, it can’t be cured. However, one form of dementia is linked to nutrition and is therefore considered to be the most treatable form.

Types of dementia

You may be familiar with Alzheimer's Disease, possibly the most well-known type of dementia. However, there are several types including vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia. All types of dementia involve the deterioration of mental capability affecting speech, memory, movement and personality. Of these, it's vascular dementia, the second most common type of dementia, which may be prevented through good nutrition because it is caused by blockages to blood vessels connected to the brain.


One of the first areas to look at is your weight. Being overweight can lead to high blood pressure which in turn can increase your risk of vascular dementia. If your BMI is over 25, consider taking steps to reduce your weight until it falls to a normal range of 20-25.

Diets high in saturated fats may lead to higher levels of cholesterol in your bloodstream. This in turn can lead to blocked arteries and heart disease. Therefore, anyone at risk of heart disease through poor nutrition is also at risk of developing vascular dementia at a later stage in life.

Some foods are very high in saturated fat so you should try to avoid eating them completely or at least only occasionally. Worst offenders include pastries and pies, processed meats such as salami, and higher fat dairy including butter, cream and hard cheese, cakes, cookies, sausages and anything containing trans-fats, hydrogenated vegetable fat or palm oil. Also take care to limit your salt intake to no more than five grams a day, about a teaspoon. Salt is hidden in a multitude of processed foods and eating too much can lead to high blood pressure.

Nutrition and diet

Aim to include plenty of fibre in your diet. This should come from a range of soluble and insoluble fibre including fruit and vegetables – at least 5-7 portions per day, as well as pulses and beans.

Olive oil is another exceptionally beneficial food to include in your dementia prevention diet. One study found that an olive oil compound called oleocanthal appeared to slow down changes in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Because it's a fat, olive oil is calorie rich so overdoing it can led to weight gain so use it in moderation.

A study of fish consumption found that those who ate the most fish on a weekly basis had a 50% less chance of developing dementia than those who didn't consume fish.

Drinking tea and wine have proved beneficial at lowering risks of dementia. Both contain a substance called flavonoids, natural compounds found in some foods which are good for boosting circulation and limiting blood clots. Tea also contains catechins, theaflavins, thearubigins and L-theanine, compounds which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential and other bioactive properties that may protect the brain from vascular damage and neurodegeneration.

One study found those who had a folate deficiency were three and a half times more likely to develop dementia. You can boost your intake of folate by eating oranges, strawberries, nuts, spinach, wheatgerm, cabbage and broccoli. Alternatively, you could take folic acid supplements.

Regular monitoring

Regularly monitoring your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels and taking steps to keep the numbers in the healthy ranges is a good place to start reducing your risks for dementia. Further beneficial steps include avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol. Active management of these factors in older adults who develop vascular dementia may help symptoms from getting worse.

By taking preventatives measures before the onset of dementia and making a conscious effort to your improve diet and lifestyle, it is possible to reduce the likelihood of developing vascular dementia in your later years.

If you would like support with weight loss, please contact me to discuss how my personalised nutrition and health coaching programme can help you succeed with reaching your happy weight.