Mediterranean diet improves brain health
What you eat not only affects your physical health but also your brain health. One of the best diets around for your brain is the Mediterranean diet. So why is this diet so good for your thinking?
The Mediterranean diet basics
Essentially this diet is based on consuming lots of fish, fruits, vegetables, cereals and healthy unsaturated fats (mostly olive oil), and lower amounts of dairy, meat and saturated fats. Regular but moderately healthy alcohol consumption is also OK.
Mediterranean diet linked to decreased risk cognitive impairment
The Mediterranean diet has already been linked to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in healthy individuals.
A study from Columbia University in New York tested whether the Mediterranean diet could benefit people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This refers to people who find themselves in the transition stage between normal aging and Alzheimer’s.
The study lasted five years and included:
- 1393 cognitively normal individuals, 275 of which acquired MCI during the study
- 482 individuals diagnosed with MCI, 106 of which acquired Alzheimer’s during the study
The researchers found individuals with normal cognitive functions who practiced the Mediterranean diet had a decreased risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. The top third of those who followed the Mediterranean diet closely had a 28% decreased risk of developing MCI and those who were in the middle third still had a 17% lower risk.
Those participants with MCI who followed a Mediterranean diet had a reduced risk of transitioning between MCI and Alzheimer’s. The top third of the participants who followed the Mediterranean diet the best had a 48% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Those in the middle third of the diet adherence had a 45% reduced risk.
Factors such as sex, age, ethnicity, genetic makeup, caloric intake and education did not affect these findings on brain health.
How the Mediterranean diet impacts brain health
Experts agree the Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol levels, blood vessel health and blood sugar levels as a whole. It might also reduce inflammation (because it involves a high intake of antioxidants). And each of these factors is linked to various forms of dementia and cognitive impairment.
A word of caution
This study clearly shows a connection between the Mediterranean diet and mild cognitive impairment risk.
However, note that an association between two factors does not necessarily mean that one factor (diet) directly causes the other (lower MCI risk).
There are various other factors that could create the connection. For example, it is possible that individuals following a healthy Mediterranean diet are also very active or have a higher socioeconomic status, both of which could result in overall better health and a decreased risk of MCI.
- Scarmeas, N., Stern, Y., Mayeux, R., Manly, J. J., Schupf, N., & Luchsinger, J. A. (2009). Mediterranean Diet and Mild Cognitive Impairment. Arch Neurol., 66(2), 216-225.
Last reviewed 18/Sep/2016