Mediterranean diet seems to boost ageing brain power

May 20, 2013

A Mediterranean diet with added extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts seems to improve the brain power of older people better than advising them to follow a low-fat diet, indicates research published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

The authors from the University of Navarra in Spain base their findings on 522 men and women aged between 55 and 80 without cardiovascular disease but at high vascular risk because of underlying disease/conditions.

These included either type 2 diabetes or three of the following: high blood pressure; an unfavourable blood fat profile; overweight; a family history of early cardiovascular disease; and being a smoker.

Participants, who were all taking part in the PREDIMED trial looking at how best to ward off cardiovascular disease, were randomly allocated to a Mediterranean diet with added olive oil or mixed nuts or a control group receiving advice to follow the typically recommended to prevent heart attack and stroke

A Mediterranean diet is characterised by the use of as the main culinary fat; high consumption of fruits, nuts, vegetables and pulses; moderate to high consumption of fish and seafood; low consumption of dairy products and red meat; and moderate intake of red wine.

Participants had regular check-ups with their family doctor and quarterly checks on their compliance with their prescribed diet.

After an average of 6.5 years, they were tested for signs of using a Mini Mental State Exam and a clock drawing test, which assess higher brain functions, including orientation, memory, language, visuospatial and visuoconstrution abilities and executive functions such as working memory, attention span, and abstract thinking.

At the end of the study period, 60 participants had developed : 18 on the olive oil supplemented Mediterranean diet; 19 on the diet with added mixed nuts; and 23 on the control group.

A further 35 people developed dementia: 12 on the added olive oil diet; six on the added nut diet; and 17 on the low fat diet.

The average scores on both tests were significantly higher for those following either of the Mediterranean diets compared with those on the low fat option.

These findings held true irrespective of other influential factors, including age, family history of cognitive impairment or dementia, the presence of ApoE protein—associated with Alzheimer's disease—educational attainment, exercise levels, vascular risk factors; energy intake and depression.

The authors acknowledge that their sample size was relatively small, and that because the study involved a group at high vascular risk, it doesn't necessarily follow that their findings are applicable to the general population.

But they say, theirs is the first long term trial to look at the impact of the on brain power, and that it adds to the increasing body of evidence suggesting that a high quality dietary pattern seems to protect cognitive function in the ageing brain.

Explore further: Experts examine Mediterranean diet's health effects for older adults

More information: Mediterranean diet improves cognition@ the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial, Online First, doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-304792

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4 comments

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neversaidit
not rated yet May 21, 2013
wtf? they recommend low-fat that is high in olive oil and nuts? in a study where MORE people developed DEMENTIA while eating LOW-FAT?

nutritional studies are worthless...
_traw_at
not rated yet May 21, 2013
I think you misunderstand the results of this small study. To me, it appears there is less dementia with a nut-based diet, some with an olive oil one, and more with a low fat diet. One could conclude that nuts and virgin olive oil helps reduce the onset of dementia to some degree. A fourth test could have been a combined nut olive oil study.
However, this was a pretty small study compared to what could be done.
Adding nuts to your diet helps lower one's bad cholesterol and/ or blood pressure levels by at least 30%. One study, found on Phys.org, was centered on eating 3 ounces of pecan nuts each day.

One could change that to home-made pecan nutbutter, easy 2 make with a coffee grinder. Walnuts and other nuts are still good, but somewhat less effective.
Berries like members of the blueberry family and cranberries are also very beneficial.
A PB &J sandwich can be very good for you, as can PB&J oatmeal (try it!) ( Oatmeal also lowers bad cholesterols and does some other things.)
neversaidit
not rated yet May 22, 2013
wtf, i can't read. i accidentally a word. i misunderstood and thought they do recommend the low fat diet. ugh. my bad.
Tom_Hennessy
not rated yet May 26, 2013
The 'low fat' diet may work because the plant fatty acid , alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) , is displaced by animal fats. Limiting competing fats and the ramping of the plant fatty acid alpha-linolenic (ALA) may be warranted.

"Metabolic syndrome (MetS)"
"ALA intake was inversely associated with the MetS"
"Effects of alpha-linolenic acid on inflammation and oxidative stress in the diabetic rats"
"The consumption of a diet containing vegetable oils rich in alpha- linolenic acid (ALA) is associated with significant reductions in the risk of nonfatal MI, a new study has shown"
"Fibrinogen level of the blood is largely caused by the lack of omega-3-alpha-linolenic acid in the diet."
"Canola-type rapeseed oil reduces the level of fibrinogen, a leading cause of thrombosis and inflammation"

Rather than simply 'a low fat' diet being better , it seems to be better because it is higher in the plant fatty acid , alpha-linolenic acid , ALA ?

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