Mediterranean Diet May Slow Brain Aging and Cognitive Decline
As we age, our brains naturally deteriorate. However, a recent study suggests that eating a diet rich in fish, fruits, and vegetables and low in meat — commonly referred to as the Mediterranean diet — may result in bigger brain volume and may also slow down cognitive decline.
The Mediterranean diet is characterized by high amounts of vegetables, legumes, cereals, fish, fruits and nuts, healthy mono-saturated fats like olive oil, low amounts of saturated fats, moderate alcohol intake, and low intake of meat and dairy products.
Participants in the study included 674 people with a mean age of 80 years and no previous diagnosis of dementia. The researchers collected dietary information via a food frequency questionnaire in order to determine whether the participants’ diets over the previous year included any of the nine components of the Mediterranean diet. They measured total brain volume, total gray matter volume, total white matter volume, mean cortical thickness and regional volume or CT via MRI scans.
Participants whose diets included at least five of the nine components of the Mediterranean diet had an average brain size that was 13.11 millimeters bigger than those who followed a diet that did not include at least five of the components. Additionally, on average, grey matter volume was five millimeters greater and white matter volume was 6.4 millimeters greater in those participants. The researchers stated that this difference in brain size is equivalent to approximately five years of brain shrinkage and resulting cognitive decline through aging.
The researchers also found that the protective effect of the Mediterranean diet was driven to the greatest extent by consuming more fish and less meat.
Researchers from Columbia University conducted the study. It was published online ahead of print on October 21, 2015, in Neurology.
Previous research has shown that the Mediterranean diet and other similar diets may improve heart health, lower the risk of diabetes, asthma, lower rates of obesity and possibly even decrease the overall risk of mortality.