MIND Diet Delays Parkinson’s Onset, Research Shows

Steve Bryson, PhD avatar

by Steve Bryson, PhD |

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MIND diet

Later age at Parkinson’s disease onset is associated with high adherence to the MIND diet and benefits women more than three times as much as it does men, a study has shown. 

In contrast, adherence to the Greek Mediterranean diet significantly correlates with a later age of Parkinson’s onset in men. 

Based on these findings, people with Parkinson’s are encouraged to eat a diet rich in fresh vegetables, whole grains, and healthy oils while limiting the intake of dairy, red meat, and sugary or processed foods.

“These dietary habits should be promoted from an early age, as [early] features of [Parkinson’s disease] and other neurodegenerative disorders can manifest decades before official diagnosis,” researchers wrote. 

The study, “MIND and Mediterranean Diets Associated with Later Onset of Parkinson’s Disease,” was published in the journal Movement Disorders

The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet, which includes foods common to the Mediterranean region, and the DASH diet. It is designed to prevent dementia and brain function and has been associated with a reduction in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 54%.

The Mediterranean diet (MeDi) encourages the primary consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, fish, seafood, and olive oil, with less emphasis on poultry and dairy products, and the exclusion of sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meat, refined grains and oils, and other highly processed foods.

The DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet is recommended to prevent or treat high blood pressure (hypertension), which recommends fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, and restricts red meat, salt, added sugars, and fat.

Despite this success, little research has investigated the MIND diet’s impact on other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. 

Now, researchers based at the University of British Columbia in Canada examined the relationship between adherence to the MIND diet and the age of Parkinson’s onset and compared the results to those who adhered to the Mediterranean diet alone. 

The study included 167 participants with Parkinson’s (68.3% men), with an average age of 64.9 years and an average time of onset of 6.5 years. Also, 119 healthy controls were included as a comparison. 

Over the past year, dietary patterns were measured using the EPIC-Norfolk Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ), and exercise habits were assessed using the Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly (PASE). Total energy intake (kilocalories) was determined with the FFQ EPIC Tool for Analysis (FETA).

MIND dietary adherence was calculated using the number of servings per food group, which generated MIND scores out of a maximum of 15 points for each participant. 

Mediterranean diet adherence was divided into two subcategories: the original MeDi (OMeDi), characterized by its antioxidant-rich mix of vegetables, whole grains, and fish, with reduced red meat and dairy consumption (scored to a maximum of 9 points); and the alternative Greek MeDi (GMeDi) which is comprised of similar food groups, but also promotes potato intake and limits poultry consumption (scored out of a maximum of 53 points).

The analysis revealed older Parkinson’s patients with a later onset age had higher adherence to all diets, which remained significant only for women in the MIND diet and the MeDi for men. In contrast, age was not associated with any dietary score.

High adherence to the original Mediterranean diet in the Parkinson’s group correlated with lower cardiovascular disease incidence and higher exercise scores. High adherence to both MIND and OMeDi diets correlated with higher exercise scores in women. 

Adherence to all diets correlated with lower body mass index (BMI, body fat based on height) in Parkinson’s males, even though OMeDi and MIND diets were linked with higher calorie intake. To account for this result, the authors suggested that “people with low dietary scores consume more foods that are not captured by the FFQ, such as prepackaged meals, and thus their kilocalorie consumption is underestimated.”

After adjusting for disease status, calorie intake, age, and disease duration, women, on average, scored 1.1 points higher on MIND diet adherence than men, “indicating that the higher MIND score is not simply because of differences in food volume,” the researchers wrote. 

“This tendency for women to adhere more strongly to the MIND diet may contribute to their lower rate of [Parkinson’s] incidence,” they added. 

Next, dietary scores were adjusted to a scale from zero to 10 to compare dietary adherence and Parkinson’s onset age. 

Overall, high MIND diet adherence correlated with a later age of Parkison’s onset with sex-specific effects. A more robust correlation was found between MIND adherence and a later onset for women than in men or any other diet. 

“[The] average effect size of the MIND diet in women was more than 3 times that of the men and surpassed all MeDi effect sizes, suggesting that its dietary components may be better suited to delaying PD onset than MeDi in a female-specific manner,” the researchers wrote. 

The Greek MeDi also reached significance with women, but to a lesser degree. In men, compared to the MIND diet and the OMeDi, Greek MeDi significantly correlated most consistently with the age of Parkinson’s onset.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the role of the MIND diet in a strictly [Parkinson’s disease] cohort,” the researchers wrote. “Our female [Parkinson’s disease]-specific findings mirror previous research in [Alzheimer’s disease] and cognitive decline, in which the MIND diet has repeatedly proved more effective than MeDi as a preventive measure.”

“Future work will investigate the effect of the diet on other [Parkinson’s disease] symptoms including gut microbial dysbiosis, disease progression, constipation, cognition, and other factors,” they added.