Mediterranean diet: Could it reduce dementia risk?

  • A study finds that the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet may include a reduced chance of developing dementia and memory loss.
  • Specifically, the diet appears to lower the level of amyloid and tau proteins that are linked with dementia.
  • People following the Mediterranean diet scored better on memory tests than those who were not following the diet.


Previous research has determined that a Mediterranean diet can benefit heart health and aid in weight loss. Now, a new study finds that it may also help reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline.


The study has shown that a Mediterranean diet can help prevent the buildup of two proteins and brain-volume shrinkage that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.


The first of these proteins, amyloid protein, forms plaques in the brain, whereas the second, tau protein, forms tangles. Both are present in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, though they are not uncommon in the brains of healthy older people, too.


“These results add to the body of evidence that shows what you eat may influence your memory skills later on,” says study author Tommaso Ballarini, Ph.D., of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn, Germany. He adds:


“Our study suggests that eating a diet that’s high in unsaturated fats, fish, fruits, and vegetables and low in dairy and red meat may actually protect your brain from the protein buildup that can lead to memory loss and dementia.”


The scientists published the study online in the May 5, 2021, issue of Neurology, a journal of the American Academy of Neurology.


The Mediterranean diet

Studies have linked good health with the foods that people living in Greece, Spain, and Italy ate before the 1960sTrusted Source. The Mediterranean diet is based on their food preferences.


This diet consists primarily of vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grain foods, seafood, extra virgin olive oil, and wine in moderation. A person following the diet can also occasionally eat poultry, eggs, and dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese.


The food types largely missing from a Mediterranean diet are red meat, added sugar, refined grains and oils, and processed foods.


Dietitian at Cleveland Clinic Kristin Kirkpatrick told Medical News Today that the contents of a Mediterranean diet contribute beneficial “omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, specific minerals, fiber, and protein” that “may support the brain’s health and protection throughout the years.”


However, Kirkpatrick cautions that, “A diet, even one with strong clinical data on its benefit, is only as healthy as the individuals who choose its structure.”


She notes the importance of sensible portion sizes and warns against the “consumption of processed foods that are marketed as heart-healthy or contain the components seen in a traditional Mediterranean approach.”


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