March 14, 2023 — Sticking closely to the Mediterranean diet — rich in healthy fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and seafood — may help protect the aging brain.
In a large study of older adults, closely following a Mediterranean diet was linked to a 23% lower risk of developing dementia over an average of 9 years.
This was true even in people whose genes made them more likely to have dementia, study researcher Oliver Shannon, PhD, of Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, told WebMD.
The study was published online March 14 in the journal BMC Medicine.
Diet can be an important risk factor for dementia. Focusing on diet and eating healthier could be targeted to prevent or reduce the risk of memory-robbing disease. Yet, previous studies exploring the impact of the Mediterranean diet have generally been limited in size, and few have explored the impact of one’s genetic makeup.
In the new study, researchers looked at genetic and dietary data from more than 60,000 adults in the UK aged 60 and over. Over the course of approximately 9 years, 882 people were affected by dementia.
People who primarily ate the Mediterranean diet had a 23% lower risk of dementia than their peers who were less careful about following the diet. Sticking closely to the largely plant-based diet was equivalent to a 0.55% reduction in dementia risk.
This was the case regardless of a person’s individual genetic risk profile.
“This is one of the largest studies in this area to date and, importantly, we found that even for people at higher genetic risk, a Mediterranean-style diet reduced the risk of developing a dementia,” Shannon says.
In a statement, Susan Mitchell, PhD, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, who was not involved in the study, said there is an “abundance of evidence that a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. But the evidence for specific diets is much less clear.
“This large new study adds to that overall picture, but it only relies on data from people of white, British or Irish ancestry,” she said.
“Further research is needed to build on his intriguing findings and uncover whether these reported benefits also translate to minority communities, where historically dementia has often been misunderstood and heavily stigmatized, and where awareness of how people can reduce their risk is low,” Mitchell said. said.
New study adds to research published earlier this monthwhich found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet or the brain-focused MIND diet most closely had fewer signs of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains after death.