Healthy Diet in Midlife: Better Cognition Later

Women with diets during middle age designed to lower blood pressure were about 17 percent less likely to report memory loss and other signs of cognitive decline decades later, a new study finds.

Led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the new findings suggest that a mid-life lifestyle modification — adoption of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet — may improve cognitive function later in life for women, who make up more than two-thirds of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent form of dementia.

The findings, published online in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia , have implications for the approximately 6.5 million Americans over age 65 diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2022. That number is expected to more than double by 2060.

The DASH diet includes a high consumption of plant-based foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium and limits saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar. Longstanding research shows that high blood pressure, particularly in midlife, is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.

The investigators analyized data from 5,116 of the more than 14,000 women enrolled in the NYU Women’s Health Study, one of the longest running studies of its kind that examines the impact of lifestyle and other factors on the development of the most common cancers among women, as well as other chronic conditions.

The researchers queried the study participants’ diet using questionnaires between 1985 and 1991 at study enrollment when the participants were, on average, 49 years old. The participants were followed for more than 30 years (average age of 79) and then asked to report any cognitive complaints.

Self-reported cognitive complaints were assessed using six validated standard questions that are indicative of later mild cognitive impairment, which leads to dementia. These questions were about difficulties in remembering recent events or shopping lists, understanding spoken instructions or group conversation, or navigating familier streets.

Of the six cognitive complaints, 33 percent of women reported having more than one. Women who adhered most closely to the DASH diet had a 17 percent reduction in the odds of reporting multiple cognitive complaints.

According to the investigators, future research is needed across multiple racial and ethnic groups to determine the generalizability of the findings.


Yixiao Song, Fen Wu, Sneha Sharma, Tess V. Clendenen, Sandra India‐Aldana, Yelena Afanasyeva, Yian Gu, Karen L. Koenig, Anne Zeleniuch‐Jacquotte, Yu Chen. Mid‐life adherence to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and late‐life subjective cognitive complaints in women. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 2023; DOI: 10.1002/alz.13468

NYU Langone Health / NYU Grossman School of Medicine. (2023, October 20). Women with a heart healthy diet in midlife are less likely to report cognitive decline later. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2023 from

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