For decades, doctors, scientists, patients, and family members have all tried to decipher what causes dementia. Current knowledge about the debilitating disease has included physiological changes, such as the presence of protein tangles and obscure-looking blood vessels in the brain. Still, the exact cause of dementia is still unclear.

Reduced blood flow to the brain is a common effect of dementia, as well as the reduction of brain cells, but physical trauma to the brain, such as a stroke, tumor, or head injury, can cause certain types of dementia. For those who develop the disease without experiencing trauma, they often question the cause and wonder, “What could I have done to prevent this?” Finally, scientists have found out at least one possible answer to what causes dementia.

A high-salt diet might be at least partly responsible for the development of certain kinds of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease.

When testing the theory on mice, the scientists discovered surprising results weeks later: reduced blood flow to the brain, loss of spatial memory, and a cognitive decline. The clear indicators of these symptoms were in the rodents’ failure to find their way out of a maze – a skill they were once successful at – and perhaps most unexpected, lost memories on nest-building; an innate ability that comes naturally to rodents. However, once taken off their high-salt diets, the mice’s blood flow was normal after four weeks.

Since dementia patients often find themselves forgetting to perform tasks that are associated with daily living – not unlike the results of the mice – the comparisons are worth noting. Because blood flow to the brain is slower in Alzheimer’s patients, these results are enough to convince doctors to urge everyone to moderate their salt intake to mitigate and defend against the decline of mental capacities.

So, If Salt Is to Blame. Now What?

A high-salt diet has long been responsible for high blood pressure and even stomach cancer, but it could also be a potential culprit for the onset of dementia.

The reduction of blood flow to the brain caused by salt can decrease cognitive function, though doctors suggest feeding your brain two types of food to help regulate blood flow: glucose and oxygen. For people with diabetes, this may seem counterproductive, but there are ways to keep that blood flowing to your brain without compromising your health. By merely adjusting the amount of glucose you consume, you could manage both your insulin levels and your cerebral performance.

There is still a lot to learn when it comes to getting to the bottom of what causes dementia, but for now it’s worth reading the sodium labels on your food, being aware of the amount that goes into dishes at restaurants or fast food chains, and adjusting your diet appropriately.

What is your take on these results? If you know someone who has dementia, do you think that these results add up? Why or why not?

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