A diet rich in fruit and vegetables to lower risk of dementia

We posed three questions to Francesca Mangialasche, geriatrician and researcher at the Division of Clinical Geriatrics at Karolinska Institutet, who conducts research on the possibility of preventing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia through diet and vitamins.

Photo: Giampaolo Sauchella

Text: Fredrik Hedlund, first published in Swedish in the magazine Medicinsk Vetenskap No 1/2015 (somwhat updated in November 2023).

What should you eat to reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s or dementia?

“In the research studies, we often refer to it as a Mediterranean diet, but really, it’s food that is recommended in many countries. The Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, which we use in the Finnish FINGER study, are very much in line with what we call Mediterranean food. It is a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, with vegetable oils instead of animal fat, a low intake of red meat and dairy, and moderate alcohol consumption.”

Which vitamins are important?

“All vitamins are important, since we need them and, with the exception of vitamin D, are unable to produce them ourselves. But in terms of preventing Alzheimer’s disease, my research has focused mainly on vitamin E. In a study of individuals over the age of 80 in Kungsholmen, Stockholm, we have shown that it appears to be important to have all the eight existing variations of vitamin E, and in the right balance. Those with a higher concentration of all eight E-vitamins reduced the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease by half. These findings have also been confirmed in a larger European study of people aged 65 years or older.”

How should you consume these vitamins?

“The surest way to get vitamin E is through your food. That is probably the best way to achieve a balanced intake of all nutrients. The vitamin E tablets available usually only contain one of the eight versions of the vitamin, alpha-tocopherol, which may create an imbalance if taken in high doses. It has also been proven that high doses of alpha-tocopherol are harmful and increase the risk of cerebral haemorrhaging and death. My message is therefore that, for the vast majority of people, food is the safest way to obtain the necessary nutrients, not pills.

Facts about vitamin E

Vitamin E is mainly found in seeds and vegetable oils, margarine, wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, avocados, whole grain products, eggs and milk.

Source: Swedish Food Agency