Researchers compared the eating habits and mental abilities of nearly 4,000 older Midwesterners. Participants’ diets were scored for adherence to a traditional Greek diet, and cognitive performance was tested every 3 years. Even after adjusting for other lifestyle factors, those with higher “MedDiet” scores suffered slower cognitive decline over time, according to the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Newsletter.
Although there’s no single true “Mediterranean diet”—people in Tunisia eat differently from those in, say, Greece—certain common components of the region’s diet have previously been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Scientists looked for:
• High intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, fish and cereals
• High intake of unsaturated fatty acids but low intake of saturated lipids
• Low intake of dairy products, meat and poultry
• Mild to moderate alcohol consumption
Even after adjusting for demographics and known risk factors,
adherence to the Mediterranean-style dietary pattern remained the
main predictor of Alzheimer’s risk. Each additional unit of adherence
to the diet was associated with a 9-10% reduced risk. The one-third of
the subjects who followed the diet most closely had a 39-40% lower.
A study by Columbia University noted that it’s not just individual nutrients that may offer protection from cognitive decline—it’s the whole dietary pattern. Although mild to moderate alcohol intake and high vegetable consumption were each associated with decreased risk, after further adjustment for other factors, no individual component proved a significant risk predictor. According to lead researcher Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, “An overall dietary pattern is likely to have a greater effect on human health than a single nutrient.”
Mediterranean-style diets, Dr. Scarmeas speculated, may be effective against Alzheimer’s by combating inflammation and oxidative stress. Also, a blue-ribbon National Institutes of Health panel recently found significant parallels between cardiovascular health and cognitive health in people over 65. So the Mediterranean diet patterns’ demonstrated cardiovascular benefits may translate into protection for the brain.
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