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More Research Needed on Mediterranean Diet & Cognition

To get a better understanding of how the Mediterranean diet relates to brain health, researchers analyzed existing randomized controlled trials (the “gold standard” of nutrition research, where participants are randomly assigned to one diet or another, so that researchers can look for causal relationships). Thus far only 5 randomized controlled trials on the Mediterranean diet and cognition have been published, with mostly insignificant results. However, the researchers did note that the most well-designed studies (using PREDIMED data) are the studies that found a protective effect on dementia risk and cognition, indicating that the Mediterranean diet might hold promise in these areas. More research is needed.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2018 Mar 1;107(3):389-404. (Radd-Vagenas S et al.)

Both Mediterranean and Vegetarian Diets Effective for Weight Loss

From Mediterranean to vegetarian, many of the world’s healthiest diets actually have more similarities than differences, so it’s not surprising to find that both these diets can be an effective path to weight loss. In this study, researchers randomly assigned 118 overweight adults who normally eat meat to either a lower calorie Mediterranean diet or a lower calorie vegetarian diet for 3 months. After a two-week assessment, the participants then switched to the other diet for 3 months. Participants lost about 4 pounds during each diet, and both diets were also effective at decreasing body fat. The only significant difference between the diets was that the vegetarian was slightly more effective in lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol, while the Mediterranean diet was slightly more effective in lowering triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood).
Circulation. 2018 Feb 26. (Sofi F et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Lifestyle habits, like diet, are an important part of a cancer-protective strategy. To see if diet relates to prostate cancer risk, researchers analyzed the eating habits of 754 men with prostate cancer, and 1,277 controls without prostate cancer. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were 34% less likely to have an aggressive form of prostate cancer than those not following a Mediterranean diet. A Western diet (filled with fast food, sweets, and red meat) and a prudent diet (filled with low fat dairy, juice, produce, and whole grains) were not found to be linked to prostate cancer risk.
Journal of Urology. 2018 Feb;199(2):430-437. (Castello A et al.)

Mediterranean Diet May Help Improve Odds of a Successful Pregnancy in IVF

IVF, or in vitro fertilization (manually combining eggs and sperm in a lab, before transferring into the woman’s uterus) is a common treatment for couples struggling to have children, but researchers wonder whether diet might also play a role. In a study of 244 (non-obese) women in Greece who had their first in-vitro fertilization treatment, those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were significantly more likely to become pregnant and have a live birth than those not following a Mediterranean diet, but these results were only significant in women younger than 35. In fact, in women younger than 35, every 5-point increase in the Mediterranean Diet Score (0-55 scale) was linked with a nearly 3 times greater likelihood of getting pregnant and having a baby with IVF.
Human Reproduction. 2018 Jan 30. (Karayiannis D et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Mediterranean-Inspired Diet May Slow Cognitive Decline in Stroke Survivors

Stroke survivors are twice as likely to develop dementia compared to the general population. To see how diet relates to brain health in stroke survivors, researchers analyzed the eating patterns and brain function of 106 stroke survivors for more than 4 years. Those most closely following a “MIND diet” had a slower rate of cognitive decline than those who don’t follow a 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. The Mediterranean diet is well-known for its brain benefits, so it’s not surprising that this new diet inspired by the Mediterranean diet is also showing promise for brain health. 
Presentation at the American Heart Association Meeting. Los Angeles, California. January 25, 2018. 

Mediterranean Diet Related to Life Satisfaction, Physical Function, and Improved Health in Older Adults

The Mediterranean diet is good for our physical health, but new studies show that the Mediterranean diet might also be good for our mental health. To see how the Mediterranean diet relates to quality of life, researchers analyzed the eating patterns and health factors of 351 older Spanish adults (ages 60+). Participants who most closely followed a Mediterranean diet were more physically active and had significantly better health-related quality of life. In both men and women, following a Mediterranean diet was linked with better mental function. Among men, those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were more likely to have healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as improved physical function. Among women, those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were more likely to have better life satisfaction. 
The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging. 2018;22(1):89-96. (Zaragoza-Marti A et al.)

Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Dependence on Multiple Meds

Polypharmacy occurs when patients have to take many medications at once, usually more than five daily medications. Because polypharmacy can result in confusion and frustration, low medication adherence, and ultimately increased health risk, especially in elderly populations, lifestyle changes to prevent or reduce polypharmacy are of great interest. To see how the Mediterranean diet relates to polypharmacy and cardiometabolic disorders like obesity and heart disease, researchers analyzed the diet, health conditions, and medications of 476 elderly adults in Rome. Those not following a Mediterranean diet (medium-low adherence) were more likely to need multiple medications, and have high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and diabetes. Looking at individual food components, olive oil, vegetables, fish, legumes, and nuts were all significantly related to a lower risk of polypharmacy. The authors conclude that following a Mediterranean diet “might potentially delay the onset of age-related health deterioration and reduce the need of multiple medications.”
The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging. 2018 Jan;22(1):73-81. (Vicinanza R et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with 38% Lower Risk of Frailty

Frailty and associated weakness can put elderly adults at risk of health and safety problems, so lifestyle strategies to help elders age strongly are of utmost importance. To see how following a Mediterranean Diet relates to frailty, researchers analyzed data from 4 studies encompassing 5,789 older adults (ages 60+). Most closely following a Mediterranean diet was linked with a 38% lower risk of frailty than not following a Mediterranean diet.
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2018 Jan 11. (Kojima G et al.) [Epub ahead of print.]

Understanding How the Mediterranean Diet May Help Prevent Colon Cancer

The Mediterranean diet’s protective effects against cancers have been extensively studied and documented, and researchers want to learn more about the mechanisms behind this relationship. Chronic inflammation in one’s intestines (such as with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) can predispose a person to colorectal cancer, so reducing inflammation is important. In this paper, researchers suggest that bioactive components of the Mediterranean diet (such as omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and phenolic compounds) were found to decrease inflammation (as measured by fibrinogen, C-reactive protein, Interleukin-6, Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha, and homocysteine). The researchers also suggest that the Mediterranean diet’s low levels of refined sugars may be helpful in preventing colorectal cancer by improving insulin resistance and decreasing circulating levels of IGF-1, a hormone associated with cancer risk. By prioritizing fish over red meat, a Mediterranean diet may also reduce the mutagenic compounds from meat that are linked with a higher colorectal cancer risk. Lastly, compounds and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables (a predominant component to a Mediterranean diet) were studied in their protective capacity against development of colorectal cancer. In short, these results “support the adoption of a [Mediterranean Diet] to decrease risk of [colorectal cancer] irrespective of tumor site.”
Frontiers in nutrition. 2017 Dec;59(4). (Donovan MG et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Colorectal Cancer Precursors

The prevalence of colorectal adenomas, cancer precursors in the large intestine, differs by race and ethnicity, with a higher prevalence among black people than among white people. To see how the Mediterranean diet relates to colorectal adenomas across different races, researchers analyzed the eating pattern and colorectal health of 41,973 men. They found that a Mediterranean diet was linked with a lower risk of colorectal adenomas among all races, but interestingly that the diet had a greater protective association among Asian and black participants than for white participants. These findings demonstrate that the use of a Mediterranean diet may be an effective way to reduce prevalence of colorectal adenomas in men, especially among black and Asian men.  
Nutrition Research. 2017, Dec;48:76-84. (Haslam A et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Less Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in At-Risk Patients

Fatty liver disease used to be mostly associated with alcoholism, but today it’s on the rise even in those who don’t drink alcohol because of lifestyle factors like diet. Researchers analyzed the eating patterns and liver health of 584 adults (average age 56) with at least one cardiovascular risk factor (such as diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure), to see how diet might relate to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were significantly less likely to have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease than those not following a Mediterranean diet (71.4% vs. 96.5%). In patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were more likely to have less insulin resistance, which indicates that their blood sugar is better managed.
American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2017 Dec;112(12):1832-1839.

Mediterranean Diet May Help Improve Depression

The Mediterranean diet is renowned for its heart-healthy properties, so researchers wonder if this eating pattern might protect mental health as well. To study this relationship, researchers randomly assigned more than 100 adults to either receive Mediterranean foods and fish oil supplements and take a Mediterranean cooking class every other week, or attend social groups every other week. After three months, the Mediterranean diet group was eating more vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, and legumes, fewer unhealthy snacks, and less red meat. Additionally, participants in the Mediterranean diet group had a significantly better improvement in their depression than those attending the social groups. The improvements in diet and depressive symptoms held steady even three months after the study ended (though the Mediterranean diet group was still receiving fish oil supplements at that time). The researchers concluded that “getting back to basics by promoting cooking skills and family/group meals could be such a simple yet powerful and empowering approach to healthcare and prevention.”
Nutritional Neuroscience. 2017 Dec 7:1-14. [Epub ahead of print.] (Parlatta N et al.)

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