Researchers in Scotland examined the brain volume of hundreds of older adults over three years. The investigators found that people who more closely followed the eating habits common in Mediterranean countries retained more brain volume compared to those who did not.
“Research is accumulating to show protective effects of the Mediterranean diet on normal cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” said study leader Michelle Luciano, of the University of Edinburgh.
The Mediterranean diet is an eating style that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, olive oil instead of butter, beans and cereal grains, such as wheat and rice. Moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine are included, while red meat and poultry are limited.
Experts know that with age, the brain shrinks and brain cells are lost. This can affect learning and memory, Luciano said.
“In our study, age had the largest effect on brain volume loss,” Luciano noted. However, “the effect of the Mediterranean diet was half the size of that due to normal aging,” she said. She considers that finding impressive.
The combination of foods may protect against factors such as inflammation and vascular disease, which can cause brain shrinkage, she added.
For the study, Luciano’s group collected dietary information form almost 1,000 Scots, about age 70 and free of dementia. More than half had a brain scan at age 73. The scans measured overall volume, gray matter and the thickness of the cortex – the brain’s outer layer.
Three years later, 401 study participants returned for another measurement.
Even after accounting for other factors that might affect brain volume – such as education level, diabetes, high blood pressure or age – better brain measurements were associated with Mediterranean-style eating, the study authors said.
The study was published online Jan. 4 in the journal Neurology.
This is a well-designed study using participants that were all similar in age and geographic location. This reduces the variables.
Earlier studies on diet and brain heath have come to similar conclusions. The same pattern is seen with heart health. The Alzheimer’s Association now recommends following the Mediterranean diet or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, developed by the National Institutes of health.
Of course, there are additional lifestyle factors – regular exercise and lifelong learning – that also play a vital role in lowering the risk of mental decline.
The Bottom Line:
Healthy eating benefits every aspect of health and longevity. The Mediterranean diet is a good choice, especially for those that have been following the European diet – high in red meat and beer, with lots of starches. The shift is not too traumatic. Please give it a try.
Source: January 4, 2017 National Institutes of Health