Mediterranean diet can lower dementia risk by quarter, study finds

A diet packed with plant-based foods could still be ‘an important intervention’ as part of future public health strategies to reduce risk

William Mata,Pa
Tuesday 14 March 2023 06:43 GMT
These Foods Could Help to Prevent Cognitive Decline

The nuts, seafood, whole grains and vegetables that are known for making a Mediterranean diet so tasty are also able to lower a risk of dementia.

BMC Medicine journal has published the findings of scientists who have found the food types can reduce a chance of the disease by up to 23 per cent.

The findings are based on data from more than 60,000 individuals from the UK Biobank – an online database of medical and lifestyle records from more than half a million Britons.

But the researchers noted the results are based mainly on European ancestry and that further studies are needed across a wider range of populations to determine the potential benefit.

However, they added that a Mediterranean diet with lots of plant-based foods could still be “an important intervention” as part of future public health strategies to reduce dementia risk.

Dr Oliver Shannon, lecturer in human nutrition and ageing at Newcastle University, who is lead author on the study, said: “Dementia impacts the lives of millions of individuals throughout the world, and there are currently limited options for treating this condition.

“Finding ways to reduce our risk of developing dementia is, therefore, a major priority for researchers and clinicians.

“Our study suggests that eating a more Mediterranean-like diet could be one strategy to help individuals lower their risk of dementia.”

Dr Shannon and his colleagues analysed data from 60,298 people who had completed a dietary assessment. The researchers scored individuals using two measures for adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

Oily fish like mackerel are widely considered ‘brain food' (Getty Images)

Over the course of nearly a decade, there were 882 cases of dementia.

The authors also took into account each individual’s genetic risk for dementia.

They found that people who followed a strict Mediterranean diet had a 23 per cent lower risk of developing dementia, compared to those who had a low adherence score.

The researchers also said the Mediterranean diet had a “protective effect” against dementia, regardless of a person’s genetic risk, but added further studies are needed to explore this finding.

Joint lead author of the study, Dr Janice Ranson, senior research fellow at the University of Exeter, said: “The findings from this large population-based study underscore the long-term brain health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.

A Mediterranean diet rich in grains and nuts has been linked to improved cancer treatment response (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Archive)

“The protective effect of this diet against dementia was evident regardless of a person’s genetic risk, and so this is likely to be a beneficial lifestyle choice for people looking to make healthy dietary choices and reduce their risk of dementia.”

Commenting on the study, Dr Susan Mitchell, head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “There is a wealth of evidence that eating a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

“But the evidence for specific diets is much less clear-cut.

“This new, large study adds to this overall picture, but it only drew on data from people with White, British or Irish ancestry.

“More research is needed to build on its intriguing findings, and uncover whether these reported benefits also translate to minority communities, where historically dementia has often been misunderstood and highly stigmatised, and where awareness of how people can reduce their risk is low.

“While there are no sure-fire ways to prevent dementia yet, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, along with plenty of exercise and not smoking, all contribute to good heart health, which in turn helps to protect our brain from diseases that lead to dementia.”

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