(KTVI/NEXSTAR) – A diet heavy in ultra-processed foods has been linked to accelerated rates of cognitive decline in older adults, a study presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference suggests.
The study, co-authored by researchers at the University of Sao Paulo, examined the eating habits of thousands of subjects in Brazil (with an average age 50.6) and their ability to complete standardized cognitive tests after a number of years. Results indicated that those ate higher percentages of ultra-processed foods — think white bread, frozen dinners, sugary drinks, etc. — were more likely to show a faster decline in cognitive scores.
The results of the study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, according to NBC News, could also indicate trouble for the average American, according to a representative for the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Ultra-processed foods make up more than half of American diets,” said Percy Griffin, PhD, the director of scientific engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association, in a statement provided to Nexstar. “It’s troubling but not surprising to see new data suggesting these foods can significantly accelerate cognitive decline.”
Griffin said the growing prevalence of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) can be credited to “a number of socioeconomic factors” including Americans having less money, access or time to prepare fresher, whole foods.
The researchers behind the University of San Paulo’s recent study also said they considered “sociodemographic, lifestyle, and clinical variables” when evaluating the data.
Sarah Lovegreen, the vice president of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Missouri, told Nexstar’s KTVI that Americans are putting themselves at “greater risk” by filling their plates with processed foods.
“I know that a lot of people are looking for that magic bullet to avoid Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic conditions, and what we’re learning is really the best way to avoid it is finding this balance of healthy eating, great movement, staying socially engaged, [and] avoiding smoking or alcohol, those things that we know are detrimental,” Lovegreen said.
Lovegreen acknowledged that Alzheimer’s can still develop despite a brain-healthy diet, but said it’s important to give people “as many tools as possible to reduce their risk,” she told KTVI.
The 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, held in San Diego, runs through Aug. 4.