Can diet improve cognitive function or ward off dementia?

September 16, 2016

With the aging of the population, the incidence of dementia is increasing. The most common type of dementia, Alzheimer's disease, accounts for more than 60% of all dementia cases. According to current estimates, nearly 36 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer's disease, with evidence suggesting that more than 115 million people will be affected with Alzheimer's disease by the year 2050, unless there are medical breakthroughs to prevent or cure the disease.

In addition to pharmacological approaches to manage , researchers are also looking at modifiable lifestyle factors such as . In particular, much research has been conducted over the past few years to assess how the Mediterranean diet might affect cognitive function and dementia. Recently, the authors of "Mediterranean Diet, Cognitive Function, and Dementia: A Systematic Review of the Evidence," published in the September 2016 issue of Advances in Nutrition, critically examined the current body of scientific evidence to determine what conclusions, if any, could be drawn.

The Mediterranean diet is characterized by high consumption of unrefined cereals, fruit, vegetables, legumes, and olive oil. Moreover, it features moderate consumption of dairy products and alcohol as well as limited meat intake. Among other benefits, adhering to the Mediterranean diet has been linked to a lower risk of various chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Overall, the authors reviewed 32 studies that examined the effect of the Mediterranean diet on cognitive function, cognitive impairment, and dementia. Despite some inconsistencies among the studies' findings, the majority of studies showed that the Mediterranean diet may contribute to better cognitive performance and may be protective against cognitive impairment and dementia. The authors cautioned that much of the research they reviewed showed an association between adherence to Mediterranean diet and better cognitive function; however, they noted, "because the majority of studies were observational, a causational link cannot be assumed."

The authors also noted that it is not fully clear whether the Mediterranean diet exerts its effects because of the diet as a whole or through the action of individual components of the diet. Research findings do suggest that some components may be more important than others. For example, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids, both abundant in the Mediterranean diet, have been associated with improved cognitive performance and a decreased risk of -related cognitive decline. Similarly, micronutrients abundant in the Mediterranean diet such as vitamin C, vitamin B-12, flavonoids, and carotenes also have been linked to a decreased risk of cognitive decline.

In their conclusion, the authors recommended that "more random control trials and large epidemiologic studies with a posteriori approaches be conducted in order to provide empirical evidence for the role of the Mediterranean diet in cognitive function and to understand the significance of individual components, as well as their synergistic effects when put together."

Explore further: Research confirms Mediterranean diet is good for the mind

More information: S. D. Petersson et al, Mediterranean Diet, Cognitive Function, and Dementia: A Systematic Review of the Evidence, Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal (2016). DOI: 10.3945/an.116.012138

Related Stories

Research confirms Mediterranean diet is good for the mind

September 3, 2013
The first systematic review of related research confirms a positive impact on cognitive function, but an inconsistent effect on mild cognitive impairment

Want a better memory? Try eating a Mediterranean diet

August 9, 2016
Eating a Mediterranean diet can slow down cognitive decline.

Western diet increases Alzheimer's risk

August 26, 2016
Globally, about 42 million people now have dementia, with Alzheimer's disease as the most common type of dementia. Rates of Alzheimer's disease are rising worldwide. The most important risk factors seem to be linked to diet, ...

Mediterranean diet plus olive oil or nuts associated with improved cognitive function

May 11, 2015
Supplementing the plant-based Mediterranean diet with antioxidant-rich extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts was associated with improved cognitive function in a study of older adults in Spain but the authors warn more investigation ...

Diet and exercise can reduce protein build-ups linked to Alzheimer's

August 16, 2016
A study by researchers at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior has found that a healthy diet, regular physical activity and a normal body mass index can reduce the incidence of protein build-ups that ...

Recommended for you

Lifestyle changes to stave off Alzheimer's? Hints, no proof

July 20, 2017
There are no proven ways to stave off Alzheimer's, but a new report raises the prospect that avoiding nine key risks starting in childhood just might delay or even prevent about a third of dementia cases around the world.

Steering an enzyme's 'scissors' shows potential for stopping Alzheimer's disease

July 19, 2017
The old real estate adage about "location, location, location" might also apply to the biochemical genesis of Alzheimer's disease, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.

Brain scans may change care for some people with memory loss

July 19, 2017
Does it really take an expensive brain scan to diagnose Alzheimer's? Not everybody needs one but new research suggests that for a surprising number of patients whose memory problems are hard to pin down, PET scans may lead ...

Can poor sleep boost odds for Alzheimer's?

July 18, 2017
(HealthDay)— Breathing problems during sleep may signal an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease, a trio of studies suggests.

Hearing is believing: Speech may be a clue to mental decline

July 17, 2017
Your speech may, um, help reveal if you're uh ... developing thinking problems. More pauses, filler words and other verbal changes might be an early sign of mental decline, which can lead to Alzheimer's disease, a study suggests.

Bacteria found in Alzheimer's brains

July 17, 2017
Researchers in the UK have used DNA sequencing to examine bacteria in post-mortem brains from patients with Alzheimer's disease. Their findings suggest increased bacterial populations and different proportions of specific ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.