Mediterranean diet may protrect from memory loss, dementia

May 29, 2021 in Brain Health, Healthy Eating, Nutrition for Older Adults, Nutrition Topics in the News

Mediterranean diet may protrect from memory loss, dementia

Eating a Mediterranean diet that’s rich in fish, vegetables and olive oil may protect your brain from protein build-up and shrinkage that can lead to Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Bonn, Germany.

The study looked at abnormal proteins called amyloid and tau. Amyloid is a protein that forms into plaques, while tau is a protein that forms into tangles. Both are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease but may also be found in the brains of older people with normal cognition.

The Mediterranean diet includes high intake of vegetables, fruit, beans and lentils, nuts, whole grains, fish and monounsaturated fatty acids such as olive oil. It’s low in saturated fatty acids, dairy products and red meat.

The findings suggest that eating such may actually protect your brain from the protein build-up that can lead to memory loss and dementia. The results add to the body of evidence that show what you eat may influence your memory skills later on.

About the study

The study included 512 people, of which 169 were cognitively healthy and 343 were identified as being at higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers looked at how closely people followed the Mediterranean diet based on their answers to a 148-item food frequency questionnaire. People who often ate healthy foods typical of the Mediterranean diet, like fish, vegetables and fruit, and only occasionally ate foods such as red meat, received the highest scores, for a maximum score of nine.

Cognitive skills were assessed with an extensive test designed for Alzheimer's disease progression that looked at five different functions, including language, memory and executive function. All of the participants had brain scans to determine their brain volume. In addition, the spinal fluid of 226 was tested for amyloid and tau protein biomarkers.

After accounting for factors like age, sex and education, researchers found that in the area of the brain most closely associated with Alzheimer's disease, every point lower people scored on the Mediterranean diet scale was equal to almost one year of brain aging. 

When looking at amyloid and tau in people's spinal fluid, those who did not follow the diet closely had higher levels of biomarkers of amyloid and tau pathology than those who did.

When it came to a test of memory, people who did not follow the diet closely scored worse than those who did.

The researchers say while more research is needed to show how a Mediterranean diet protects the brain from protein build-up and loss of brain function, these findings suggest that people may reduce their risk for developing Alzheimer's by incorporating more elements of the Mediterranean diet into their daily diets.

A limitation of the study is the fact that people's diets were self-reported in the questionnaire. People may have made errors recalling exactly what and how much they ate.

Source: Neurology, May 5, 2021.

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