Elderly people who follow a Mediterranean-style diet may benefit from better brain health and a lower risk for cognitive impairment later in life, according to a new U.S. study from the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota.
A Mediterranean-style diet includes fish, lean meat, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. The diet has been linked to better heart and bone health.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 672 participants in the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. At the start, none of the participants had dementia, and they weren’t in hospice or terminally ill. Residents from Olmsted County, Minnesota, entered the study in 2004, at ages 70 to 89.
Participants described their diets in a survey and underwent tests for memory, executive function, language, visual-spatial skills and cognitive impairment. Researchers also used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the cortical thickness of several regions of the brain.
The researchers found that elderly patients with higher Mediterranean diet scores had higher cortical thickness in all lobes in the brain. Higher legume and fish intake, in particular, was associated with greater thickness.
The study didn’t track patients long enough to see whether they actually developed any cognitive problems later on, however.
The study can’t show whether diet actually causes less brain atrophy though, since it was observational in nature. However previous research has found links between the Mediterranean diet, brain volume and total brain matter.
The new findings suggest that a high intake of fish, vegetables and legumes are beneficial, whereas a high intake of simple sugars and carbohydrates may have harmful effects on the brain.
Source: Alz Dement, June 2016.
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