Following a Mediterranean-like diet could help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, suggest the findings of a new study.
The study, published May 5 in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, concluded that eating a Mediterranean-like diet — one that is rich in fish, olive oil, fruits and vegetables, and low in dairy and red meat, can have a “cleansing” effect on the brain, helping to rid the organ of proteins that are linked to memory loss.
For the study, researchers analyzed more than 500 seniors with an average age of 69. About 343 of the 512 participants were considered high risk of developing Alzheimer’s, per the study.
The researchers used MRI scanners to determine the participants’ brain volume, as shrinking of brain volume has been observed in those affected by the disease. The researchers also took cerebrospinal fluid samples from the participants, testing the samples for two abnormal proteins that are said to be biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s. The participants were also surveyed about their diet habits, with a score given based on how often they consumed foods often associated with a Mediterranean-like diet, such as fish, vegetables, whole grains and olive oil, and how often they consumed red meat, which is not as commonly associated with this specific diet. They also underwent certain cognitive tests.
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By the end, the researchers, in an analysis of all the tests conducted, determined that participants who more closely followed a Mediterranean diet performed better on cognitive tests, showed less brain shrinkage, and also had lower levels of the two abnormal proteins associated with Alzheimer’s compared to those who did not follow the diet as rigorously.
“There was also a significant positive correlation between a closer adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet and a higher volume of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is considered the control center of memory. It shrinks early and severely in Alzheimer’s disease,” said Tommaso Ballarini, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Michael Wagner’s research group and lead author of the study, in a statement.
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Though more study is needed to understand exactly how one’s diet may affect brain health, this is not the first study to link the Mediterranean diet to good brain health. A 2017 study, for instance, determined that healthy eating habits, particularly the Mediterranean diet, which was originally developed to improve cardiovascular health, may lower the risk of developing cognitive impairment up to 35%
“It is possible that the Mediterranean diet protects the brain from protein deposits and brain atrophy that can cause memory loss and dementia. Our study hints at this,” Ballarini added. “But the biological mechanism underlying this will have to be clarified in future studies.”