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Diet and Dementia

Dementia is an acquired brain disease, affecting a person’s mental ability, personality and behaviour. People with dementia commonly experience problems with memory and skills needed to carry out everyday activities. In Hong Kong, one in 10 people aged over 65 are diagnosed with dementia, with increase in incidence with advancing age1.

There are many different causes of dementia but Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause. Most forms of dementia cannot be cured, although research is continuing into developing drugs, vaccines and treatments. However, drugs known as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors have been developed to temporarily alleviate some of the symptoms of some types of dementia.

Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease

Primary study of over 2,000 people aged 65 and above in New York has shown eating more salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruits and dark and green leafy vegetables, and cutting down on high-fat dairy products, red meat, offal and butter can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease2. This food combination represented a diet rich in omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E and folate and with lower levels of saturated fatty acids and vitamin B12. People who showed the greatest adherence to this dietary pattern were 38% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who had the least adherence to this pattern2.

Does Ginkgo Biloba help?

Ginkgo Biloba extract is widely used to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and slow down ageing. Products are claimed to promote blood circulation, improve memory and enhance heart health.

One of the longest and most rigorous studies yet on Ginkgo Biloba was done in the UK. 176 people with mild-to-moderate dementia took part in that study. They received daily doses of either a standardised Ginkgo Biloba extract tablet (two 60mg tablets daily) or an inactive, but identical-looking, placebo tablet for six months. It was found that Ginkgo Biloba extract does not slow progression of dementia and improve cognitive function or quality of life3

Although it remains uncertain how to prevent dementia, the evidence seems to indicate that a healthy diet and lifestyle may help protect against dementia. In particular, being physically active, avoiding foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt, not smoking and engaging mental activity into old age may help to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.


  1. http://www.hkada.org.hk
  2. Gu Y, Nieves JW, Stern Y et al. Food Combination and Alzheimer Disease Risk. A Protective Diet. Archives of Neurology, 2010;67(6)
  3. McCarney R, Fisher P, Iliffe S, et al. Ginkgo biloba for mild to moderate dementia in a community setting: a pragmatic, randomised, parallel-group, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Int J Ger Psych, 2008; 23(12): 1222 – 1230

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