Is the Mediterranean diet capable of lowering the risk of dementia?

Mediterranean diet
A Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of developing some of dementia’s most common symptoms.

The study key points

  • According to a report, the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet may include a lower risk of dementia and memory loss.
  • The diet tends to reduce the levels of amyloid and tau proteins, which have been related to dementia.
  • Memory tests showed that those who ate a Mediterranean diet performed better than those who didn’t.

A Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve heart health and help weight loss in previous studies. According to a new report, it can also help to lower the risk of dementia and cognitive decline.

According to the findings, a Mediterranean diet will help avoid the buildup of two proteins and shrinkage of brain volume, all of which are linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

In the brain, the first of these proteins, amyloid protein, forms plaques, while the second, tau protein, forms tangles. Both are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, but they are also found in the brains of healthy older people.

Tommaso Ballarini, Ph.D., of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn, Germany, says, “These findings add to the body of evidence that shows what you eat can affect your memory skills later on.” He goes on to say:

“Our findings indicate that a diet rich in unsaturated fats, seafood, fruits, and vegetables and low in dairy and red meat can protect your brain from protein accumulation, which can lead to memory loss and dementia.”

The researchers published their findings in Neurology, a publication of the American Academy of Neurology, on May 5, 2021.

Dietary Guidelines for Mediterranean Diet

Studies have attributed good health to the foods consumed by people in Greece, Spain, and Italy prior to the 1960s. Their food habits are reflected in the Mediterranean diet.

Vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grain foods, fish, extra virgin olive oil, and wine in moderation are the mainstays of this diet. An individual on the diet can also eat meat, eggs, and dairy products like yoghurt and cheese on occasion.

Red meat, added sugar, refined grains and oils, and processed foods are all foods that are mostly absent from a Mediterranean diet.

According to Kristin Kirkpatrick, a dietitian at Cleveland Clinic, the Mediterranean diet provides beneficial “omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, unique minerals, fibre, and protein” that “may help the brain’s health and defence over the years.”

“A diet, even one with good scientific evidence on its value, is only as safe as the individuals who select its structure,” Kirkpatrick cautions.

She emphasises the value of portion control and cautions against eating “processed foods that are sold as heart-healthy or include the components found in a typical Mediterranean approach.”

Identifying connections

The researchers drew 512 people from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases’ Longitudinal Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Analysis for this study. 343 individuals were found to be at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, while the remaining 169 were found to be “cognitively normal.”

The participants filled out questionnaires about what they consumed in the previous month. The researchers asked them to keep track of their consumption of 148 different foods. Individuals were given scores based on the consistency of their food, with those who consumed a diet that was most similar to a Mediterranean diet earning the highest scores on a scale of 1 to 9.

The study’s obvious drawback is that participants self-reported their eating patterns, which may lead to mistakes or misrepresentations.

Individuals were often given memory tests to see whether they were developing Alzheimer’s disease. Memory, working memory, vocabulary, executive functions, and visuospatial abilities were all tested. The volume of each person’s brain was measured using MRI brain scans.

Finally, the researchers assessed the existence and quantities of two biomarker proteins: amyloid and tau, in spinal fluid from a subsample of 226 participants who gave their consent.

The researchers discovered many strong connections between better cognitive health and a Mediterranean diet after adjusting for sex, age, and education.

According to their findings,

  • Any dietary grade point below 9 was linked to nearly a year of brain ageing associated with Alzheimer’s disease progression.
  • Participants who adhered to the Mediterranean diet the most had lower levels of amyloid and tau protein biomarkers in their spinal fluid than those who did not.
  • On memory checks, people who ate a Mediterranean diet performed better than those who did not.

“More research is required to show the mechanism by which a Mediterranean diet protects the brain from protein accumulation and loss of brain function,” says Dr. Ballarini, “but findings indicate that people can reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by integrating more Mediterranean diet elements into their daily diets.”

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