Slowing Cognitive Decline With Mediterranean Diet

Older individuals who follow the Mediterranean diet are less likely to experience age-related cognitive decline, according to a new study.

Previous findings on how the Mediterranean diet affects age-related cognitive decline are inconclusive, partly because participants in these studies self-reported their dietary assessment.

The new study that appeared in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research used blood serum biomarkers, providing stronger evidence that the Mediterranean eating pattern can help to keep the mind sharp longer.

The research is based on the data from the 3C Study on dementia that included people over the age of 65 from three French cities. In the new study, the researchers analyzed 418 Bordeaux residents and 422 people from Dijon who did not have dementia at the beginning of the study.

Their health information and blood samples were collected between 1999 to 2000. During the 12-year follow-up, they underwent follow-up visits for health and neuropsychological assessment every two to three years.

The researchers used blood samples to measure 72 metabolites — substances involved in metabolism — such as amino acids, lipids, and sugars. This data allowed the researchers to evaluate the participants’ adherence to the Mediterranean diet using the system called MDMS, or "Mediterranean Diet Metabolomic Score."

The study found that residents of the Bordeaux region with a greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet were 10% less likely to develop mild age-related cognitive impairment compared to people with lower MDMS scores. In the Dijon region, greater scores were linked to a 9% lower risk.

In addition, medication use and prevalence of diabetes were higher among individuals with cognitive impairment and lower MDMS scores.

However, the study is subject to several limitations. For example, blood serum samples were only collected at the beginning of the study, meaning that the researchers were unable to examine prior exposures or changes during the follow-up.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

Previous studies have shown many benefits of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, including the lower risk of all-cause mortality and cancer, as well as diabetes and Alzheimer’s prevention, among others.

The American Heart Association recommends the Mediterranean diet to prevent heart disease and stroke, maintain a healthy weight, and control cholesterol levels.

The Mediterranean diet refers to the traditional eating habits in the 16 countries around the Mediterranean Sea. While the local cuisines may slightly differ from one to another, they share common features:

  • Lots of fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber and nutrients.
  • Plenty of bread and other grains, potatoes, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Olive oil as a primary source of fat.
  • Dairy products, eggs, fish, and poultry in low to moderate amounts.
  • Centering on minimally processed, plant-based foods.
  • Fruit as a dessert instead of sweets.

The Mediterranean diet may not only stave off age-related cognitive decline but also prevent multiple chronic conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes.


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