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Mediterranean diet may protect brain function

Monday February 16th, 2009

By Jane Collingwood

New evidence has come to light on the benefits of eating a so-called "Mediterranean diet".

A diet comprising high intakes of fish, vegetables, fruit, beans, cereals and unsaturated fatty acids, low intakes of dairy products, meat and saturated fats and moderate alcohol consumption appears to be linked to a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment.

Dr Nikolaos Scarmeas and colleagues at Columbia University Medical Center, New York, USA, explain that mild cognitive impairment is a stage between normal aging and dementia.

They rated adherence to a Mediterranean diet among 1,393 individuals with no cognitive problems and 482 patients with mild cognitive impairment, who were followed for an average of 4.5 years.

Of those with no problems at the start, the third with the highest Mediterranean diet scores had a 28 per cent lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, and the third in the middle group had a 17 per cent lower risk, compared with the third with the lowest scores.

Of those with mild impairment at the start, the third with the highest scores had 48 per cent lower risk of developing dementia, and those in the middle third had 45 per cent lower risk, compared with the third with the lowest scores.

In the February issue of Archives of Neurology, the authors write: "Diet may play an important role in the cause and prevention of Alzheimer's disease." This may be due to a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, blood vessel health overall, or a reduction in inflammation, the experts say.

They also believe that individual factors may directly affect the risk, such as higher levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids and lower levels of saturated fatty acids.

Scarmeas, N. et al. Mediterranean Diet and Mild Cognitive Impairment. Archives of Neurology, Vol. 66, February 2009, pp. 216-25.

Tags: Brain & Neurology | Europe | North America | Nutrition & Healthy Eating

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