Study Links This Diet to a Higher Risk of Dementia

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Surprised senior man with a fork and spoon
Roman Samborskyi /

Avoiding high-sodium foods and embracing a diet higher in potassium can help ward off dementia, according to a new study out of China.

Researchers found that elderly people who consume diets high in sodium — greater than 5,593 milligrams of sodium a day — have a greater risk of memory impairment.

Memory impairment was also more likely in those with a sodium-to-potassium ratio of greater than 3.8 per day, meaning the amount of sodium they consumed was more than 3.8 times greater than the amount of potassium they consumed.

By contrast, a potassium intake of greater than 1,653 milligrams a day seems to boost cognitive performance. Foods rich in potassium include beans, winter squash and bananas.

Cognitive testing scores increased steadily each time someone reduced sodium intake by 1,000 milligrams a day and replaced it with potassium.

In a summary of the findings, Ai Zhao, corresponding author of the study, says:

“Based on our findings, it is reasonable to suggest that decreasing sodium intake, and properly increasing potassium intake, is beneficial to cognitive function.”

The study, published in the scientific journal Global Transitions, has particular resonance in China, where sodium intake is much higher than it is in other countries, according to the researchers. While the World Health Organization recommends a maximum of 1,400 milligrams per day of sodium for people between the ages of 50 and 79 years, the Chinese population has an average intake of 4,830 milligrams per day.

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