MINEAPOLIS, Minn. — As eating and weight loss fads come and go, one diet continues to show positive benefits for human health — the Mediterranean diet. Now, a new study on the brain reveals people sticking with this diet are protecting themselves from dementia.
Researchers in Germany find the Mediterranean diet, rich in fish, vegetables, and olive oil, promotes healthy aging of the brain. It may also ward off the build up of harmful proteins in the brain, one of the main causes of Alzheimer’s disease — the most common form of dementia.
On the other hand, scientists say eating large amounts of red meat, sugar, fried, and fat-rich foods ages the brain by “several” years. The results come from a review of what study participants eat and their cognitive abilities.
Specifically, researchers looked at abnormal proteins called amyloid and tau. Amyloid is a protein that can cluster together to form harmful plaques in the brain. Meanwhile, tau proteins can start to fold abnormally and form tangles which disrupt brain activity. Both problems are typical symptoms in patients dealing with Alzheimer’s.
What else should people be eating?
Along with fish and veggies, the Mediterranean diet includes a high intake legumes, fruits, cereals, and monounsaturated fatty acids (like olive oil). Eaters adhering to this diet usually limit their consumption saturated fatty acids, dairy products, and meat.
Researchers took brain scans of over 500 participants and asked them to recount how often they ate foods from a list of 148 items over the past month. The team then totaled up the scores to see how closely each person followed a Mediterranean diet on a scale from zero to nine.
People who scored full marks often ate healthy foods like vegetables, fruit, and fish, and only occasionally ate foods like red meat. The results show that every point lower on the dieting score equated to almost one full year of additional brain aging.
“Our study suggests that eating a diet that’s high in unsaturated fats, fish, fruits and vegetables, and low in dairy and red meat may actually protect your brain from the protein build-up that can lead to memory loss and dementia,” Dr. Tommaso Ballarini, of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases says in a media release. “These results add to the body of evidence that show what you eat may influence your memory skills later on.”
The wrong diet can worsen memory skills
The study involved 169 cognitively healthy individuals and 343 identified as being at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
When looking at amyloid and tau levels in each person’s spinal fluid, those who did not follow the Mediterranean diet closely had higher levels of biomarkers for amyloid and tau pathology than those who did. On their memory tests, again, people not following the Mediterranean diet closely scored worse than those doing so.
There are around 50 million dementia cases globally, with around 10 million new cases discovered by doctors every year. Alzheimer’s disease makes up 50 to 70 percent of those cases. Its development and progression have links with both genetic and environmental factors, including diet and lifestyle.
“More research is needed to show the mechanism by which a Mediterranean diet protects the brain from protein build up and loss of brain function, but findings suggest that people may reduce their risk for developing Alzheimer’s by incorporating more elements of the Mediterranean diet into their daily diets,” Ballarini concludes.
The findings appear in the journal Neurology.
SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.