According to a recent analysis of data, adherence to the Mediterranean diet – one that’s high in vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil – is linked to higher cognitive function. Dietary factors also seem to play a role in slowing cognitive decline.
The researchers examined the effects of nine components of the Mediterranean diet on cognition. The diet emphasizes consumption of whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans and lentils, fish and olive oil, as well as reduced consumption of red meat and alcohol.
The data came from two large studies, called AREDS and AREDS2, which assessed the effect of vitamins on age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in 8,000 adults, a condition which damages the light-sensitive retina in the eye.
The researchers assessed AREDS and AREDS2 participants’ diets at the start of the studies. Participants were asked their average consumption of each Mediterranean diet component over the previous year. The AREDS study tested participants' cognitive function at five years, while AREDS2 tested cognitive function in participants at the start of the study and again two, four and 10 years later.
High fish, vegetable intake showed most benefit
Participants with the greatest adherence to the Mediterranean diet had the lowest risk of cognitive impairment. High fish and vegetable consumption appeared to have the greatest protective effect. At 10 years, AREDS2 participants with the highest fish consumption had the slowest rate of cognitive decline.
The numerical differences in cognitive function scores between participants with the highest versus lowest adherence to a Mediterranean diet were relatively small, meaning that individuals likely won't see a difference in daily function. But at a population level, the effects clearly show that cognition and neural health depend on diet.
The researchers also found that participants with the ApoE gene, which puts them at high risk for Alzheimer's disease, on average had lower cognitive function scores and greater decline than those without the gene.
The benefits of close adherence to a Mediterranean diet were similar for people with and without the ApoE gene, meaning that the effects of diet on cognition are independent of genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.