Ultra-processed foods linked to dramatically increased risk of dementia

Unhealthy Junk Food Illustration

They found that replacing ultra-processed foods with healthy foods such as fresh fruit was associated with a 19% decrease in the incidence of dementia.

The study also found that replacing these foods with healthier options can reduce the risk of dementia.

According to recent research published in the journal neurology, those who consume the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods, such as soda, chips and cookies, may be more likely to develop dementia than those who consume the lowest amount. The researchers also found that replacing ultra-processed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods in a person’s diet was linked to a reduced risk. Study does not prove that ultra-processed foods cause dementia. Only one association was shown.

Ultra-processed foods are low in protein and fiber and heavy in added sugar, fat and salt. Soft drinks, salty and sweet snacks, ice cream, cold meats, fried chicken, yogurt, canned tomatoes and baked beans, ketchup, mayonnaise, packaged guacamole and hummus, packaged bread, and flavored cereals are some examples of ultra-processed foods.

“Ultra-processed foods are meant to be convenient and tasty, but they decrease the quality of a person’s diet,” said study author Huiping Li, Ph.D., of Tianjin Medical University in the china “These foods may also contain food additives or molecules from packaging or produced during heating, which have been shown in other studies to have negative effects on thinking and memory skills. Our research not only found that foods ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, but also found that replacing them with healthy options can reduce the risk of dementia.”

The researchers identified 72,083 people for the study from the UK Biobank, a vast database containing health information from half a million people in the UK. Study participants were 55 years of age or older and did not have dementia at baseline. They were followed for an average of ten years. 518 people had dementia diagnoses at the end of the research.

Study participants completed at least two questionnaires about what they ate and drank the previous day. The researchers calculated the amount of ultra-processed food people ate and compared it to the daily grams of other foods to produce a proportion of their daily diet. They then separated the subjects into four equal groups, ranging from the lowest to the highest percentage intake of ultra-processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods made up 9% of the daily diet of people in the lowest group, or 225 grams per day, compared to 28% of the daily diet of those in the highest category, or 814 grams per day. 150 grams was comparable to a portion of pizza or fish sticks. Beverages were the main food category that contributed to high consumption of ultra-processed foods, followed by sugary products and ultra-processed dairy products.

In the lowest group, 105 of 18,021 people developed dementia, compared with 150 of 18,021 people in the highest group.

After adjusting for age, sex, family history of dementia and heart disease, and other factors that could affect dementia risk, the researchers found that for every 10% increase in daily intake of ultra-processed foods , people had a 25% increased risk. of dementia

The researchers also used data from the study to estimate what would happen if a person replaced 10 percent of ultra-processed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods, such as fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, milk and meat. They found that this substitution was associated with a 19% lower risk of dementia.

“Our results also show increasing unprocessed or minimally processed foods by just 50 grams a day, the equivalent of half an apple, a serving of corn or a bowl of bran cereal, while simultaneously reducing ultra-processed foods by 50 grams per day, equivalent to a chocolate bar or a portion of fish sticks, is associated with a 3% reduction in the risk of dementia,” Li said. “It’s encouraging to know that small, manageable changes in diet can make a difference to a person’s risk of dementia.”

Li noted that more research is needed to confirm the findings.

Maura E. Walker, Ph.D., of Boston University in Massachusetts, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, said, “While nutrition research has begun to focus on the processing of foods, the challenge is to classify these foods as unprocessed, minimally processed, processed, and ultra-processed. For example, foods such as soup would be classified differently if canned and home-made. Also, the level of processing is not always aligned with diet quality. Plant-based burgers that are considered high quality may also be ultra-processed. As we want to better understand the complexities of dietary intake, we must also consider that may require further high-quality dietary assessments.”

A limitation of the study was that cases of dementia were determined by looking at hospital records and death records rather than primary care data, so milder cases may have been missed.

Reference: “Association of ultra-processed food consumption with dementia risk” by Huiping Li, Shu Li, Hongxi Yang, Yuan Zhang, Shunming Zhang, Yue Ma, Yabing Hou, Xinyu Zhang, Kaijun Niu, Yan Borné, and Yaogang Wang, 27 of July 2022, neurology.
DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000200871

The study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

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