A recent study conducted by the University of Edinburgh has shed light on the potential cognitive benefits of following a Mediterranean diet for older individuals.
The research revealed that older adults who adhered to this dietary pattern retained more brain volume over a three-year period compared to those who did not follow the diet as closely.
However, contrary to earlier studies, the consumption of more fish and less meat was not associated with changes in brain volume.
The Mediterranean Diet Essentials
The Mediterranean diet comprises substantial quantities of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, and cereal grains like wheat and rice.
It also includes moderate amounts of fish, dairy, and wine, while red meat and poultry are limited. This diet is recognized for its potential health benefits, and this study explored its impact on brain health in aging individuals.
Brain Shrinkage and Cognitive Decline in Aging
As people age, the brain naturally undergoes a shrinking process, accompanied by the loss of brain cells, which can affect learning and memory.
The study aimed to investigate whether the Mediterranean diet could mitigate this process.
The researchers collected dietary information from 967 Scottish individuals around the age of 70, all of whom did not have dementia.
Among this group, 562 participants underwent an MRI brain scan around age 73 to assess overall brain volume, gray matter volume, and cortical thickness (the outer layer of the brain).
Subsequently, 401 of these individuals returned for a second MRI at age 76. The study then compared these measurements to how closely the participants adhered to the Mediterranean diet.
Variation in Diet and Brain Volume
The participants exhibited varying degrees of adherence to the Mediterranean diet principles.
The study discovered that individuals who adhered less closely to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to experience a higher loss of total brain volume over the three-year period than those who followed the diet more faithfully.
The dietary difference explained 0.5% of the variation in total brain volume, an effect roughly half the size of that attributable to normal aging.
These results held true even after adjusting for other factors that could influence brain volumes, including age, education, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Interestingly, there was no observable connection between gray matter volume or cortical thickness and adherence to the Mediterranean diet.
Intriguingly, the study contradicted earlier research by revealing that fish and meat consumption were not linked to brain changes.
The researchers speculate that other components of the Mediterranean diet may be responsible for the observed relationship or that the combined effects of all the diet’s components play a role.
The study offers promising insights into the potential of the Mediterranean diet to preserve brain volume in older adults.
While it may not be a complete solution to the natural process of brain aging, this dietary pattern could contribute to maintaining cognitive health as individuals grow older.
As further research unfolds, the multifaceted benefits of the Mediterranean diet continue to be explored.
For those interested in nutrition, recent studies have explored the impact of specific foods on waist size, blood pressure, and blood sugar control.
Additionally, research has delved into the effects of a common food oil in the U.S. on gene expression in the brain.
The study was published in Neurology and conducted by Michelle Luciano et al.
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