Mediterranean diet may reduce risk of dementia

Joana Campos 5 min
mediterranean diet
Despite this study having promising results, the sample used should be broader to have a better understanding of the link between diet and disease.

New data suggest that eating lots of plant-based foods may have a ‘protective effect’ against dementiaregardless of the person’s genetic risk, which, according to the researchers, could form a basis for future public health strategies, if further investigations confirm these results.

Dr Janice Ranson, a researcher at the University of Exeter, and co-author of the study said: “The results of this studybased on the population, underscore the long-term brain health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean dietrich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.”

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

The results, published in the journal BMC Medicine, are based on data from over 60,000 individuals from the UK Biobankan online database of the medical and lifestyle records of over half a million Britons.

The study

The investigators scored subjects using two measures of adherence to the Mediterranean diet, and took into account the genetic risk of dementia of each.

Over almost a decade, 882 cases of dementia were registered, but those who follow a strict Mediterranean diet have a 23% lower risk of developing the diseasecompared to those who eat differently.

The Doctor. Oliver Shannon, Professor of Human Nutrition and Aging at the University of Newcastle and lead author of the study, said: finding ways to reduce the risk of developing dementia is a “high priority” for public health. “Dementia impacts the lives of millions of individuals around the world, and there are currently limited options to treat this condition“, he said.

Susan Mitchell, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, agreed that this research is “intriguing” but that it needs more research, and that it should be expanded to include people of African, Asian and minority ethnic originparticularly because dementia has been stigmatized in some communities.

Mitchell reinforces that there are still no “safe ways to prevent dementia”. “There’s a lot of evidence that eating a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.” However, the evidence for specific diets is much less clear.”

Limitations on results

Professor David Curtis of the Institute of Genetics at UCL said the study does not reflect the fact that people who eat a Mediterranean diet are more likely to lead a generally healthy lifestylemaking it unclear whether the diet itself reduces the risk of dementia, “although it plausibly does.”

There are limitations to the results, which are mainly based on people of European descent, with further studies being needed in a wider range of populations. The Doctor. Duane Mellor, a dietitian and professor at Aston University, noted that the food questionnaire used does not reflect British eating habitsfor example that potatoes are eaten differently in the UK compared to the Mediterranean.

Mellor added that this study also does not cover the social aspect of eating, which is considered a central feature of the Mediterranean diet, and that may have a protective effect against dementia by increasing interactions with people.

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