Mediterranean Diet Improves Brain Health, Study Finds

By @hyaluronidase on
Mediterranean diet
IN PHOTO: Food is seen on a table at a restaurant at the port of El Masnou, near Barcelona May 16, 2008. The Spanish government is leading a bid to persuade UNESCO to put the Mediterranean diet on the world heritage list. But some question how healthy the food served up in Spain really is. Reuters/Albert Gea

Many published studies say that Mediterranean diet packs several health benefits. A new study adds evidence to the health benefits of the diet as it suggests that Mediterranean food improves brain power.

The May 11 published study found in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine shows that high vegetable and low animal diet, supplemented with olive oil is linked to improved cognitive performance. “This was the first clinical, randomized study using a dietary pattern for good health,” said author Emilio Ros, in a report by the Wall Street Journal or WSJ. 

Researchers chose around 447 people in random to observe a Mediterranean diet for a period of four years. These participants were grouped into three: the first group was on Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil; the second group had mixed nuts, such as hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts, into their diet; and the third group, composed of around 147 people, served as the control group required to observe a low-fat diet.

Following the four-year period, researchers compare the brain function among the participants in each group. The study involved healthy participants between the ages of 55 to 80.

Results show that those who observed Mediterranean diet had an improved cognitive function within four years, while it declined in those observing the low-fat diet, as reported in WSJ. More specifically, memory function is retained in the Mediterranean diet with nuts group, while attention and executive function were improved in the diet that included olive oil. Meanwhile, those who ate low-fat meals were shown to have a decline in cognitive performance, based on the brain tests performed before and after the study.

The improved cognitive performance may be due to the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents present in large amounts in the food involved, said Ros. The study says phenolic compounds come in abundance in olive oil and nuts and that these compounds help fight oxidative processes in the brain responsible for neurodegeneration.  

Mediterranean diet means consuming mostly vegetables and fruits, with some seafood, but only little consumption of dairy products and meat. Previous observational studies found a link between Mediterranean diet and reduced dementia risk, but the studies had limitations. However, Ros said that the new study eliminates bias and “provides first-level evidence.”

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