Dementia fight must focus on diet, say experts

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LEADING doctors and experts have urged that the battle against dementia should be refocused away from “dubious” drugs to the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, ahead of an international summit on the disease.

In a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, they said persuading people to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil was “possibly the best strategy currently available” but warned it was being largely ignored because of the “low awareness and prestige given to diet by many in the medical profession”.

Their call for investment in an education programme came as a leading charity warned that dementia research is decades behind that of cancer. The Alzheimer’s Society said drugs that reduce the symptoms but do not cure it were developed four decades after drugs that can cure some cancers became available.

Dementia experts from G8 countries will gather in London this week for a meeting convened by David Cameron as part of the UK’s presidency of the group of leading economies and the Alzheimer’s Society warned it was time for governments to commit to a collaborative plan to further research and help those affected.

Among signatories to the letter were former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Professor Clare Gerada, the chair of the National Obesity Forum, Professor David Haslam, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Liverpool Simon Capewell and London cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra.

They said successfully encouraging people on to a healthier diet could have a “far greater impact in the fight to reduce the dramatic increasing rates of the disease” than the “dubious benefit of most drugs”. It can also protect against coronary heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

Research by the University of Exeter’s Medical School found a majority of studies suggested the diet could improve cognitive function, lower rates of decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Dr Malhotra said. “The evidence base for the Mediterranean diet, in preventing all of the chronic diseases that is plaguing the western world is overwhelming.

“This includes cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

“Policy makers and the public need to know that such a diet is far more potent than the often dubious benefit of many medications and without side effects.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone to cut the risk of dementia as well as conditions like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

“The G8 summit this week will provide a unique opportunity to make real progress much faster, and re-double international efforts to find effective treatments and cures for dementia.”

Dementia is a syndrome associated with continuing decline of the brain and its abilities. Current estimates suggest 35.6 million people around the world are living with dementia. The World Health Organisation has estimated that that number could reach 115.4 million in 2050.

The Yorkshire Post is raising money to help some of those with dementia in our region this Christmas and you can boost the appeal, in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society, by bidding in our online auction, as detailed on Page 2.

You can also send a donation by cheque, made payable to the Alzheimer’s Society, to: Yorkshire Post Christmas Appeal, Yorkshire Post, No 1 Leeds, 26 Whitehall Road, Leeds, LS12 1BE. If you are a UK taxpayer, please enclose a Gift Aid form, available on the appeal page online, with your donation. This makes every £1 you give worth an extra 25p at no cost to you.