Mediterranean diet can cut risk of developing age-related brain disorders, says new study
Eating healthy monounsaturated fats such as olive oil is known to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease
Eating a Mediterranean-style diet helps keep the brain healthy, reducing age-related damage, say researchers.
Brain scans suggest a diet rich in plant foods and fish, along with moderate drinking, cuts the risk of developing lesions that are linked to the development of cognitive disorders including Alzheimer’s.
The Mediterranean diet is regarded as the classic eating habits of populations from countries such as France, Greece, Spain and Italy.
It has been thought to improve heart health and stave off cancer because it is high in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and ‘healthy’ fats such as those in olive oil, while low in red meat and dairy products.
But a new US study shows further benefits to the brain where it is linked to lower levels of white matter hyperintesity volume, a marker of damage to the small vessels.
Some researchers believe the diet keeps the grey cells healthy by cutting inflammation, while others say the high intake of antioxidant vitamins may also protect the brain.
A report in the Archives of Neurology medical journal examined for the first time the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and lesions in the brain, known as white matter hyperintensities (WHM).
Typical Mediterranean Diet: High in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and healthy fats such as those in olive oil, while low in red meat and dairy products
Study leader Hannah Gardener of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and colleagues looked at data on almost 1,000 people with an average age of 72 years taking part in the Northern Manhattan Study.
Participants were given a food frequency questionnaire to assess dietary patterns during the previous year, and answers were used to determine a score from 0-9 indicating how much they stuck to a Mediterranean diet, with a higher MeDi score showing greater compliance.
The volume of chronic age-related white matter damage was measured using brain MRI scans.
Participants who engaged in moderate to heavy levels of physical activity also had higher scores in the study
Results of the survey showed that
11.6 per cent of participants scored 0 to 2 on the MeDi scale, 15.8 per
cent scored 3, 23 per cent scored 4, 23.5 per cent scored 5, and 26.1
per cent scored 6 to 9.
Women had lower scores than men and those engaged in moderate to heavy levels of physical activity had higher scores.
Those scoring 6 or higher also had lower Body Mass Index scores, suggesting healthier weights.
Moderate drinking was another important aspect of the typical Mediterranean diet
The results show a lower burden of
WMHV among people sticking to a Mediterranean diet, even after allowing
for risk factors including physical activity, smoking, blood lipid
levels, hypertension, diabetes, history of cardiac disease and BMI.
only component of the MeDi score showing independent benefit with less
brain damage was higher consumption of monounsaturated fat such as olive
oil compared with saturated fat, including butter.
Gardener said ‘Although diet may be an important predictor of vascular
disease, little is known about the possible association between dietary
habits and WMHs.
have suggested that consumption of a Mediterranean Diet is associated
with a reduced risk of the metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease,
stroke and cognitive disorders, but no studies to date, to our
knowledge, have examined the association with WMH volume.’
said: ‘In summary, the current study suggests a possible protective
association between increased consumption of a MeDi and small vessel
The results suggests the overall dietary pattern, rather than any of the individual components, was the most important factor, said the report.
Eating healthy monounsaturated fats such as olive oil is known to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, but in the UK higher levels of animal or saturated fats are eaten.
Olive oil: Contains omega-6 fats, which blocks the body's response to inflammation in chronic conditions such as heart disease and arthritis
Olive oil contains omega-6 fats, a form of ‘healthy’ polyunsaturates which blocks the body’s response to inflammation in chronic conditions such as heart disease and arthritis.
It also reduces blood pressure and improves the ratio of good to bad blood fats.
Dieticians say the Mediterranean diet also appears to improve vascular function, the flexibility of cells lining the walls of blood vessels, particularly in the heart and circulatory system.
The diet is known to fight inflammation and repair oxygen-related cell damage.
Previous research has found strict adherence to a Mediterranean diet could help stave off memory loss and Alzheimer’s.
Even those people already suffering from memory loss were half as likely to develop full-blown Alzheimer’s if they stuck to a Mediterranean-style diet.