Health Studies

Mediterranean Diet Can Improve Cognitive Function

The Mediterranean diet has long been studied for its role in heart health and aging, but emerging research suggests that it may also be protective for brain health. In a follow up to the PREDIMED study (where Spanish adults at risk for heart disease were randomly assigned to either a Mediterranean diet with four tablespoons of olive oil daily, a Mediterranean diet with one ounce of nuts daily, or a low fat controlled diet) researchers analyzed the relationship between diet and cognitive function. Of the 334 participants in this study with data on cognitive function, the scientists found that overall brain function significantly improved for both Mediterranean groups over the 4-year experiment, compared with the control group. Specifically, the nuts group significantly improved on tests of memory, while the olive oil group significantly improved on tests of reasoning, planning, and problem solving. This adds to the growing body of research that the Mediterranean diet is an important factor in healthy aging.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 May 11. [Epub ahead of print] (Valls-Pedret C et al.) 

Leafy Greens Can Keep Your Brain Young

It is no secret that green vegetables are some of the healthiest foods for our bodies, but new research shows that they are also good for our brains. Researchers in Chicago and Boston analyzed the eating patterns and cognitive abilities of over 950 older adults for an average of five years. The scientists found a significant decrease in the rate of cognitive decline for people who ate more green leafy vegetables (like spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens). In fact, people who ate just one to two servings of leafy greens per day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who ate none.

Presentation at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology. Boston MA. March 30, 2015.

Mediterranean Diet Associated With Healthy Aging, DNA

Telomeres, DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes, can tell us a lot about aging and longevity, as shorter telomeres are associated with many age related diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. To determine the relationship between DNA and diet, Harvard researchers analyzed food intake and telomere length from over 4,600 healthy nurses using data from the Nurses’ Health Study. Researchers found that people with the greatest adherence to the Mediterranean Diet (lots of vegetables, fruits, grains (mostly unrefined), fish, legumes, and nuts, and less meat) had the longest telomeres, a good indicator of healthy aging. Additionally, the scientists pointed out that no one specific food was pinpointed as the best, reinforcing the importance of a well-rounded, healthy diet.
British Medical Journal. 2014 Dec 2;349. (Crous-Bou M et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Decreases Risk of Frailty in Aging Adults

The Mediterranean diet stands the test of time! As part of a prospective cohort study in Spain, researchers assessed 1815 community dwelling older adults for adherence to the Mediterranean diet and measures of frailty (including exhaustion, muscle weakness, low physical activity, slow walking speed, and weight loss). The researchers found that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was significantly associated with a decreased risk of frailty. The study also found that reduced frailty risk was related with increased fruit consumption and fish consumption.
Journal of the American Medical Directors Association. 2014 Aug 7 (Leon-Munoz LM et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Reduces Risk of Cognitive Decline

Just because you don’t live in the Mediterranean, doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the Mediterranean diet. An Australian study followed 527 healthy older adults (average age=69 years) in 3 different dietary pattern groups (Australian-style Mediterranean, Prudent/healthy, and Western) over a 3-year period. Researchers found that in participants with genetic predisposition to Alzheimers disease (APoE4 allele carriers), high adherence to the Australian-style Mediterranean diet (high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and fish) was associated with better executive function, the set of mental processes used in planning, strategizing, remembering details, and managing time and space.
Molecular Psychiatry. 2014 July 29. [Epub ahead of print] (Gardener SL et al.) 

Med Diet Associated with Healthy Aging

A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine demonstrates that eating a Mediterranean Diet is associated with greater health and well-being in older age. The study analyzed food frequency questionnaires collected between 1984 and 1986 from 10,670 women in their late 50s and early 60s with no major chronic diseases. Fifteen years later researchers again collected data from the same women and found that those who had adhered to a Mediterranean Diet in middle age were about 40% more likely to live past 70 and to have avoided 11 chronic diseases measured in the study including many cancers, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. Those who most closely followed a Med Diet also were more likely to age without physical disabilities, signs of cognitive impairment, or mental health problems.
Annals of Internal Medicine. 2013; 159(9): 584-591. (Samieri, et al.)

Mediterranean Diet and Bone Health in the Elderly

A group of scientists in France looked at the relationship between following a Mediterranean diet and fractures in a group of 1,400 elderly people from Bordeaux, France. Researchers collected information on diet and used it to measure how closely they were following the Mediterranean diet. After analyzing the reported fractures and comparing this with adherence to a Mediterranean diet they found no relationship between the two.
Osteoperosis International. [Epub June 20, 2013] (Feart et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Reduces Night Sweats and Hot Flushes in Menopause

Hot flushes and night sweats are two common yet unpleasant symptoms during menopause, but no dietary recommendations have been identified to prevent them. To better understand the relationship between food and menopause, researchers in Australia followed over 6,000 middle-aged women for over 9-years, collecting information on their diet, hot flushes, and night sweats.  The scientists found that a Mediterranean style diet (characterized by garlic, peppers, mushrooms, salad greens, pasta, and red wine) and a diet high in fruit significantly decreased night sweats and hot flushes, while high-fat and high-sugar diets (characterized by sweet biscuits, cakes, jam, meat pies, and chocolate) significantly increased these symptoms.  
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013 May;97(5):1092-9. (Herber-Gast GC et al). 

Aging, Depression, and the Mediterranean Diet

A group of investigators from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago conducted a study among participants of the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) into the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and depression among older adults. They found that in this large, biracial community greater adherence to a Mediterranean pattern of eating including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and legumes, was associated with a decreased likelihood of developing depressive symptoms over time. The link between the Mediterranean diet and mental health may be found in a number of dietary components of the diet like B-vitamins, antioxidant nutrients, and fat components.
The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. 2013; 17(5):441-445. (Skarupski et al.)

Mediterranean Diet, Cognitive Function and Dementia

A group in the UK conducted a systematic review of the literature currently available concerning the possible relationship between the Mediterranean diet, cognitive function and dementia. After analyzing the available research they found that most published studies (9 out of 12) suggest greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with slower mental decline and decreased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. More research is needed to clarify the relationship of the Med Diet with vascular dementia and mild cognitive impairment.
Epidemiology. 2013; 24(4):479-489. (Lourida et al.)

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