In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the link between nutrition and dementia. As the number of people living with dementia continues to rise, researchers are exploring the role that diet may play in supporting cognitive health. A number of research articles have been published recently that provide insights into the impact of various nutrients and dietary patterns on dementia risk.

In this week’s Nutrition News, we take a look at some of the latest studies on nutrition and dementia, highlighting the key findings and implications for individuals and public health policy.

Research discovers links between sleep disturbance and dementia risk

A groundbreaking new study from SUNY Upstate Medical University suggests that sleep-maintenance insomnia, a type of sleep disturbance that involves difficulty returning to sleep after waking up, may have a surprising silver lining in that it could potentially reduce the risk of dementia in older adults. While previous research has linked sleep problems with cognitive decline, this study suggests that the relationship between sleep and dementia may be more complex than previously thought, and that certain types of sleep support could have protective effects.

The research, which has been discussed in this recent Science Daily article, examined long-term sleep disturbance measures in relation to dementia risk using data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study. The study found that sleep-initiation insomnia and sleep medication usage increased the risk of dementia, however, sleep-maintenance insomnia decreased the risk.

The study is unique in that it is the first to examine this relationship using a nationally representative sample of US older adults. Previous research has linked other sleep disturbances, such as REM sleep behaviour and sleep deprivation, with cognitive decline. The researchers theorise that engagement in activities that preserve or increase cognitive reserve may be a potential mechanism for the decreased dementia risk among those with sleep-maintenance insomnia.

This highlights the importance of considering sleep disturbance history when assessing dementia risk in older adults and suggests that lifestyle and dietary changes to reduce sleep disturbances may help to prevent the development of dementia. The prevalence of sleep disturbances among older adults is high, and further research is needed to better understand the causes and manifestations of sleep disturbances in this population. Future research should also examine other sleep disturbance measures and consider how sociodemographic characteristics may interact with sleep disturbances to influence dementia risk.

A low carb diet could offer diabetes support

Diabetes is a chronic condition that involves irregularities with the hormone insulin. People with diabetes need to take proper management steps and diet is a key component of diabetes management. Carbohydrates break down to glucose, meaning that people with diabetes need to be aware of the carbohydrates consumed and how they can impact blood glucose levels.

A recent study published in Diabetes Care, discussed in this Medical News Today article, found that a low-carbohydrate diet with high-quality macronutrients may benefit people with type 2 diabetes.

The study included over 10,000 participants from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and involved researchers looking at diet in relation to all-cause mortality and mortality from cardiovascular disease and cancer. The researchers found that adhering to a low-carbohydrate diet was associated with lower all-cause mortality, however, the benefits of adhering to a healthy, plant-based, low-carbohydrate diet were the most pronounced. This diet option was associated with lower all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality. The researchers found that the benefits of following this diet may be most pronounced for those who follow certain lifestyle practices, including not smoking, engaging in moderate to vigorous exercise, and moderate alcohol consumption, suggesting that the results show correlation and not necessarily causation.

While the researchers also acknowledged that people who adhered to a low-carb diet may have been more likely to incorporate other healthy practices, and the data relied on participant reporting, which introduces the possibility for errors in data collection. However, the study offers useful information for clinicians providing dietary recommendations to diabetes patients.

Diabetes management involves careful work with professionals to ensure the best possible health outcomes and while more research is needed to confirm this study's findings and investigate the long-term effects of low-carbohydrate diets, a healthy, plant-based, low-carbohydrate diet with high-quality macronutrients may benefit people with type 2 diabetes.

Could vitamin D play a role in preventing dementia?

A study published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring, covered in this Medical News Today article on vitamin D, found that vitamin D supplementation is associated with a lower incidence of dementia.

The study analysed data from 12,388 people aged 71 years on average who were dementia-free at the start of the study. After adjusting for factors including cognitive diagnosis, depression, and APOE ε4 status, the researchers found that vitamin D exposure was linked to a 40% lower incidence of dementia compared to no exposure.

Women exposed to vitamin D were 49% less likely to develop dementia than those without exposure, while vitamin D-exposed men were 26% less likely to develop dementia than non-exposed men. The researchers also found that depression was linked to a 35% higher incidence of dementia, suggesting that mental health also plays as important a role in cognitive health as nutrition.

It is thought that vitamin D may help dementia by aiding the clearance of amyloid beta aggregates, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease, and protecting nerve cells from injury, including from other abnormal proteins that play a role in dementia. Vitamin D supplements had the greatest effects on individuals with normal cognition as opposed to mild cognitive impairment and APOE ε4 non-carriers versus carriers.

Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, a board-certified internist, suggests that vitamin D's benefits for dementia might be related to balancing immunity. Women are more likely to benefit from vitamin D supplements as they are more prone to autoimmune conditions.

While the findings are interesting, the study is limited due to significant differences between the participants in the two study groups and more research is needed to inform potential preventative strategies for dementia.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is Director and Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.