- Research suggests that following the Mediterranean diet provides numerous health benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- Along with these health benefits, some research suggests that this dietary pattern may also prevent or delay the cognitive decline associated with dementia. Yet studies have produced conflicting results.
- However, in a new observational study spanning 20 years, Swedish scientists found no significant association between the Mediterranean diet and reduced risk of dementia.
- The researchers suggest that further investigations are needed to fully understand the role diet plays in reducing the risk of dementia.
Dementia is a syndrome associated with a decline in cognitive functions that is usually chronic or progressive.
This can result from injuries or health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), strokes, and disorders affecting blood vessels in the brain, among others. Yet the cause of dementia is not fully understood.
The WHO suggests that more than
With the prevalence of dementia set to increase, it is essential to identify prevention strategies and effective treatments.
One area of research that is receiving increased attention from scientists is the role that diet plays in reducing the risk of dementia. Specifically, scientists are interested in the Mediterranean diet – a dietary pattern that follows the traditional cuisine of people living in the Mediterranean region.
Scientists suggest that diet alone may not have a strong influence on cognitive function.
The study was published October 12 in the online issue of the journal Neurology.
To investigate the role diet plays in the development of dementia, as well as dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, researchers at Lund University analyzed dietary data from 28,025 people in Sweden over a period of 20 years. At the start of the research, the average age of the participants was 58 and none had been diagnosed with dementia.
Participants completed 7-day food diaries, detailed food frequency questionnaires, and underwent personal interviews.
At the 20-year follow-up, 1,943 or nearly 7% of participants were diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
The researchers then looked at the participant’s adherence to the recommendations of the conventional or Mediterranean diet. Conventional dietary recommendations used by scientists followed Swedish nutritional recommendations and guidelines, similar to guidelines in the US and UK. Additionally, the researchers used a Modified Mediterranean Diet Score (mMDS) to calculate the participant’s adherence to the Mediterranean diet.
In addition to diet adherence, the researchers adjusted for age, gender, education, and lifestyle factors. The team also excluded participants who were diagnosed with dementia within 5 years of starting the study.
After checking the data, the scientists found no significant association between adherence to conventional dietary recommendations or the Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of dementia from all causes, Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia.
They also found no evidence that adherence to either diet influenced the presence of biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease in a subgroup of 738 participants.
Moreover, identical results were found in people with strong adherence to dietary recommendations or strong adherence to the Mediterranean diet.
Still, the researchers note that participants who developed dementia over the 20-year study period were older and had lower levels of education at the start of the study compared to those who didn’t. developed the disease. Additionally, people who developed dementia also had cardiovascular risk factors and comorbid health conditions at the start of the study.
However, due to study limitations, including the possibility that participants may not report certain diet and lifestyle information, the researchers suggest that further investigation is needed to confirm these findings.
“Although our study does not rule out a possible association between diet and dementia, we did not find a link in our study, which had a long follow-up period, included younger participants than some other studies and did not require people to remember what foods they had eaten regularly years before.
In an editorial related to the study, Dr Nils Petersneurologist and professor at the University of Basel in Switzerland, and Dr Benedetta Nacmiasprofessor at the University of Florence in Italy, noted that despite these results, “food should not be forgotten, and it remains important, especially when integrated into a multimodal approach, including other measures, such as than the control of vascular risk factors.”
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“The Mediterranean diet has accumulated a strong body of evidence linking this way of eating to the prevention of chronic disease and improved vascular health via the resultant stable blood sugar and blood pressure levels, a healthy lipid profile and low systemic inflammation.”
“The physical and cognitive benefits [of the Mediterranean diet] concern not only what is included in this diet (fish, olive, oil and vegetables) but what is NOT included, mainly highly processed foods including processed grains, vegetable seed oils (soy, corn, sunflower, canola, vegetables), and sugar. I think if a person is consuming omega-3 fatty acids, along with highly processed foods, seed oils, and sugar, they may not benefit from cognitive and dementia prevention.
Sullivan suggested that “the most evidence-based brain health diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet, an aptly named acronym called the MIND diet.” […].”
“The MIND diet focuses on eating 10 types of healthy foods (beans, berries, fish, green leafy vegetables, nuts, poultry, olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, wine) regularly while avoiding five categories specific unhealthy foods (butter, cheese, fried foods [and] fast food, red meats and sweets [and] pastries),” Sullivan said.
“However, it’s important to remember that, as with all diets, brain health-boosting foods must be consumed in conjunction with other lifestyle choices to have substantial benefits, such as constant cardiovascular exercise, socialization, cognitive stimulation and sense-making.No single thing is […] is going to have a robust effect on something as complex as the brain,” she noted.