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Healthy Lifestyle (Including Mediterranean Diet) Linked with Lower Risk of Alzheimer's

Eating a nutritious diet is one of the many daily lifestyle choices that can have an impact on our health, especially as we age. Researchers followed 2,765 adults in the Chicago area for over 5 years to see if their lifestyle choices were related to their risk of Alzheimer’s dementia. They specifically looked for these 5 healthy lifestyle factors: 1) not smoking, 2) at least 150 minutes per week of exercise, 3) low to moderate alcohol consumption, 4) following a Mediterranean-inspired healthy diet, and 5) participating in late-life “cognitive activities” like reading, crafting, playing games, and socializing. Compared with adults following 0 or 1 healthy lifestyle factor, the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia was 37% lower in those following 2 or 3 healthy lifestyle factors, and 60% lower in those following 4 or 5 healthy lifestyle factors.
Neurology. 2020 Jun 17;10.1212/WNL.0000000000009816. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000009816. (Dhana K et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Has Long History of Health Benefits

Mediterranean diet first rose to prominence in the 1950’s and since that time has become one of the most-studied diets in the world. In this study, researchers summarize the Mediterranean diet’s scientific history and key takeaways, including its benefits for weight loss and the prevention of heart disease and type II diabetes. The Mediterranean diet has also been linked with the possible prevention of certain types of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The authors note that the erosion of tradition threatens the Mediterranean diet in its place of birth, and that more populations could benefit from adopting a more Mediterranean inspired diet.
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2019 Mar 15;16(6). pii:E942. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16060942. (Lăcătușu C-M et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Better Brain Health in Adults at Risk for Alzheimer's

Numerous studies have observed a link between the Mediterranean Diet and slower cognitive decline, but researchers wonder how this might relate to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. To better understand diet’s relationship with Alzheimer’s pathology, scientists analyzed the eating patterns and buildup of Aβ (small pieces of protein that can accumulate in the brain, potentially creating plaques and causing brain cells to be destroyed) in 77 older adults who were already on the path to Alzheimer’s disease (by being flagged as being Aβ accumulators). Those most closing following a Mediterranean diet had significantly less Aβ accumulation over time, with fruit standing out as a particularly beneficial food. The authors suggest that improving your Mediterranean diet score by just 1 point (0-9 point scale) may result in a 20% decrease in Aβ accumulation over 1 year, and up to a 60% decrease over 3 years.
Translational Psychiatry. 2018 Oct 30;8(1):238. doi: 10.1038/s41398-018-0293-5. (Rainey-Smith SR et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Cognitive Benefits, Less Conversion to Alzheimer’s

Research continues to tout the brain benefits of a delicious and nutritious Mediterranean diet. In a review article, Australian researchers analyzed more than a dozen longitudinal and prospective studies (where participants are observed over a long period of time) to determine the link between eating patterns and cognitive health. In the 18 studies, encompassing nearly 60,000 adults total, the scientists found that closely following a Mediterranean diet was associated with “slower rates of cognitive decline, reduced conversion to Alzheimer’s disease, and improvements in cognitive function.” More specifically, the Mediterranean diet was linked with better memory, executive function (which controls behavior, planning, and reasoning), and visual constructs.
Frontiers in Nutrition. 2016 Jul 22;3:22. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2016.00022. [Epub] (Hardman RJ et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Better Brain Structure in Elderly

The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with healthy aging, but emerging research is shedding new light onto why this might be. Researchers analyzed the eating patterns and brain size in 674 elderly (average age 80) adults without dementia in New York City. They found that those most closely following the Mediterranean diet had larger brains (total brain volume, grey matter, and white matter), with an effect similar to 5 years of aging. Of the specific foods studied, eating 3-5 oz fish weekly, and keeping meat intake under 3.5 oz per day, was also linked with larger brain volumes, equivalent to about 3-4 years of aging. These results suggest that a Mediterranean diet, especially one that encourages fish consumption over meat consumption, could promote brain health, as brain atrophy (brain shrinkage) has been linked with cognitive decline.
Neurology. 2015 Oct 21. (Gu Y et al.) [Epub ahead of print.]

Med Diet Can Preserve Brain Structure, Delay Cognitive Aging

The link between healthy aging and the Mediterranean diet is well established, but emerging research sheds new light onto this mechanism. Scientists analyzed the eating patterns and brain scans of 146 French adults (average age 73). They found that the brain structure (white matter) of those most closely following the Mediterranean diet was significantly more preserved 9 years later than those who didn’t follow a Mediterranean diet. To put this in perspective, the researchers concluded that “higher adherence to the [Mediterranean Diet] appeared to delay cognitive aging by up to 10 years.”
Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2015 July 16. (Pelletier A et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

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.) 

Med Diet May Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk by Half

The Mediterranean diet, famous for its link with healthy aging, may also cut the risk for Alzheimer’s. Researchers studied the relationship between eating patterns and Alzheimer’s in 923 retired adults in Chicago over an average of 4.5 years.  The scientists rated participants’ diets based on how closely they adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet (a healthy diet used to treat hypertension that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, and limited sweets and salt) and the MIND diet. The MIND diet is a hybrid Mediterranean-DASH diet that emphasizes foods associated with brain health, including whole grains, green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, and fish. Those most closely following the Mediterranean diet were 54% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s dementia (more than any other diet group). Comparatively, those most closely following the DASH diet were 39% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s dementia. The group most closely following the MIND diet (which shares many similarities with the Med diet) was 53% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s dementia than the group with the lowest MIND diet scores, and even those moderately following the MIND diet were at a 35% lower risk. 
Alzheimer’s and Dementia. 2015 Feb 11. pii: S1552-5260(15)00017-5. [Epub ahead of print] (Morris MC 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.)

Mediterranean Diet May Help Keep You Smarter

Reading, writing and researching can bulk up your brain, but did you know that your diet could make you smarter? Eating a Mediterranean-style diet — one rich in olive oil, whole grains, fish and fruit — may protect aging brains from damage linked to cognitive problems, new research finds. Dr. Nikolas Scarmeas, an associate professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center, New York City, and his colleagues have already shown that a Mediterranean Diet could help lower the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and might lengthen the life of those who have the disease. In his latest study, he may have found out why. After studying a group of male and female participants averaging 80 years of age, he determined that those who most closely followed the Mediterranean Diet had fewer incidents of stroke and brain infarcts – tissue that has died because of reduced or cut-off blood supply. Those who adhered to the Mediterranean Diet to the highest degree lowered their risk of such damage by up to 36%. (Related article).

Presentation at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting, April 10-17, 2010.

Med Diet: Keeping Your Brain Healthy

A study conducted by the Columbia University Medical Center examined the association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) among 1393 multi-ethnic participants.  Using Cox proportional hazards, the association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet (0-9 scale) and the incidence of MCI, as well as the progression of MCI to Alzheimer’s disease was assessed.  The models were all adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, education, genotype, caloric intake, body mass index, and duration between baseline dietary assessment and baseline dietary diagnosis.  The study concludes that a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet correlates to a reduced risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and reduced risk of MCI conversion to Alzheimer’s disease.
Archives of Neurology 2009 Feb; 66(2):216-25 (Scarmeas et al.)