Mediterranean diet linked to less brain shrinkage with age

One more reason to follow a Mediterranean diet – it could prevent the brain from shrinking in old age thus helping to slow down or prevent cognitive decline.    A new study published in the journal Neurology suggests there is an association between consuming foods typically consumed within a Mediterranean dietary pattern and a reduced amount of brain shrinkage.  Several studies have already demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet can result in having better thinking skills, a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.  

The study involved 400 people who were free of dementia between the ages of 73 and 76.  The researchers measured the brain volume and the thickness of the cerebral cortex of each participant at the beginning of the study and then three years later, remeasured their brain volume once again.  Each individual participant also filled out a questionnaire which the scientists assessed to see how well they followed the dietary pattern of a Mediterranean diet.  The Mediterranean diet is composed of lots of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, and whole grains, moderate amounts of fish, dairy foods, and red wine with limited amounts of red meat and poultry.

What was found was those who closely followed a Mediterranean diet retained more volume during the three years.  By following a Mediterranean diet it explained 0.5 percent of the variation in brain volume, which was half the size of that due to normal aging.

During old age, the brain will shrink by 1-2 percent each year.  There is mounting evidence indicating eating a diet rich in oily fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts provides protective factors to help maintain memory and cognitive functioning with age.

It has been stated and known that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.  This means adopting a healthy lifestyle of regular exercise, staying mentally active, drinking in moderation, keeping cholesterol and blood pressure in check, eating a balanced diet and avoiding smoking to help lower the risk of dementia. 

As this study is only observational and does not prove that eating a Mediterranean diet slows age-related brain shrinkage, it does show an association of having a lower amount of total brain shrinkage over the three-year time span of the study if a person were to follow this dietary regimen.  It does add to the growing body of evidence highlighting the importance of proper nutrition for brain health.

Even though there is no “right way” to follow the Mediterranean diet, the basics of this pattern of eating include the following:

·Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, herbs, spices, fish, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil

·Eat in moderation poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt

·Eat red meat rarely

·Avoid the following foods:

·Sugar-sweetened beverages

·Foods with added sugars – cookies cake, pie, donuts, etc.

·Processed meats – salami, bologna, bacon, sausage, pepperoni

·Refined grains – white bread and white rice

·Refined oils – corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil

·Other highly processed foods – chips, fries, candy, sugary breakfast cereals, or microwave meals