Dementia: The sneaky ingredient linked to memory problems – eaten by millions of Britons

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Dementia is a looming public health crisis. With populations ageing around the world, healthcare professionals are steeling themselves for the onslaught. However, there’s still time to turn the situation around. You can modify your risk of brain decline by making sensible dietary decisions.

A good place to start would be to cut down on salt – an ingredient Britons eat far too much of.

Speaking to, Doctor Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, spoke about the risk excessive salt intake poses to the brain.

As Doctor Sancho noted, evidence suggests the link is an indirect one.

“Research shows that conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease increase the risk of developing dementia, and a diet high in salt can increase a person’s risk of these conditions.”

According to Doctor Sancho, more “large-scale studies” looking at diet over the course of people’s lives is needed to start unpicking the links between salt and dementia.

Nonetheless, mice studies have found a causal link between the two.

Researchers in the US found that feeding mice a high-salt diet led to memory problems that may be triggered by changes to the immune system in the gut.

The findings were published in the scientific journal Nature Neuroscience.

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Scientists at Cornell University investigated the effect of feeding a high salt diet to mice, finding that those that consistently ate high levels of salt performed worse in memory tests.

They found that excess salt was linked to a reduction in blood flow in the regions of the brain important for memory.

The changes to the blood supply in the brain were also linked to changes in the gut.

Researchers found that cells in the small intestine expanded in mice on a high salt diet, which caused an increase in an inflammatory protein called IL-17.

Circulating in the mice’s blood supply, IL-17 caused a number of changes to the cells lining blood vessels in the brain, reducing blood flow and causing memory problems.

How to cut down on salt

Doctor Sancho said: “Guidelines suggest eating less than 6g of salt a day as part of a healthy diet – this is about a teaspoon.”

Of course, this is easier said than done. As the American Heart Association puts it, sodium can be “sneaky”.

That’s why taking control of your sodium intake means checking labels and reducing preservatives, the health body says.

Salty items to be aware of include:

  • Processed foods
  • Natural foods with a higher-than-average sodium content, including cheese, seafood, olives and some legumes
  • Table salt, sea salt and kosher salt (sodium chloride)
  • Some over-the-counter drugs
  • Some prescription medications.

Cutting back on salt is not the lever you have at your disposal.

An overall commitment to a healthy lifestyle can bolster the brain against decline.

Doctor Sancho explained: “A healthy diet and lifestyle also include exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet including all the food groups, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, keeping blood pressure in check, having healthy cholesterol levels and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.”

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