`Following a Mediterranean Diet May Reverse Cognitive Decline in Elderly - Olive Oil Times

Following a Mediterranean Diet May Reverse Cognitive Decline in Elderly

By Paolo DeAndreis
Oct. 4, 2021 12:40 UTC

Some of the most com­mon effects of aging on cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties may be cur­tailed by adher­ing to the Mediterranean diet, accord­ing to a new study pub­lished in Clinical Nutrition.

In many cases, mem­ory loss can be improved and cog­ni­tive dete­ri­o­ra­tion can be halted or slowed down, the team of Spanish researchers found.

We found that par­tic­i­pants expe­ri­enced small-to-mod­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments in sev­eral cog­ni­tive domains after three years of Mediterranean diet inter­ven­tion.- Natalia Soldevila-Domenech, neu­ro­science researcher, Hospital Del Mar Medical Research Institute

While the Mediterranean diet has proven car­dio­vas­cu­lar and cog­ni­tive health ben­e­fits for any indi­vid­ual, not all patients – espe­cially older ones – ben­e­fit at the same level or in the same way. This sug­gests the need for highly-tar­geted dietary rec­om­men­da­tions.

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According to the researchers, the new study refines the under­stand­ing of cor­re­la­tions between cog­ni­tive per­for­mance and weight loss, adding fur­ther evi­dence to the cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits asso­ci­ated with a bet­ter adher­ence to the MedDiet.

We stud­ied the within-sub­ject lon­gi­tu­di­nal rela­tion­ships between cog­ni­tion, body mass index, phys­i­cal activ­ity and qual­ity of life in older adults fol­low­ing a MedDiet,” the researchers wrote.

By focus­ing on a sam­ple of 487 male and female vol­un­teers, who on aver­age were 65 years old, the study’s authors have found mea­sur­able improve­ments due to the MedDiet. All sub­jects took part in the Predimed-Plus trial, a major study to which dozens of Spanish research cen­ters con­tributed that focused on the effects of the MedDiet on a healthy lifestyle.

At base­line, par­tic­i­pants were over­weight or obese and had at least three cri­te­ria for meta­bolic syn­drome, includ­ing hyper­ten­sion, hyper­glycemia, excess waist fat, low HDL cho­les­terol and high triglyc­eride lev­els,” a press release reads.

We found that par­tic­i­pants expe­ri­enced small-to-mod­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments in sev­eral cog­ni­tive domains after three years of Mediterranean diet inter­ven­tion,” Natalia Soldevila-Domenech, a neu­ro­science researcher at the Hospital Del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona, told Olive Oil Times.

Improvements included short and long-term spa­tial and visual mem­ory as well as ver­bal mem­ory, abil­i­ties to move and act, the degree of atten­tion and of inhi­bi­tion.

Cognitive scores were then grouped into mem­ory, exec­u­tive func­tions and global cog­ni­tion con­structs,” Soldevila-Domenech said. We observed mem­ory changes cor­re­lated with weight reduc­tions after one year and with improve­ments in phys­i­cal activ­ity after three years.”

Higher adher­ence to the MedDiet enhanced mem­ory changes,” she added. Finally, improve­ments in exec­u­tive func­tions and global cog­ni­tion were cou­pled with improve­ments in the qual­ity of life of par­tic­i­pants.”

Researchers found that cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits for the sub­ject adher­ing to the MedDiet were observed in all par­tic­i­pants, inde­pen­dent of their weight, gen­der, age, edu­ca­tion level, intel­li­gence quo­tient, smok­ing sta­tus, diag­nos­tic of dia­betes or pre-dia­betes and the use of some med­ica­tions, includ­ing tran­quil­iz­ers, seda­tives or treat­ments for high cho­les­terol.

These results are impor­tant since the pop­u­la­tion included in the study were older adults with over­weight or obe­sity and meta­bolic syn­drome,” Rafael de la Torre, a pro­fes­sor at the Neurosciences Research Program in Barcelona, told Olive Oil Times.

Without any inter­ven­tion, indi­vid­u­als with these car­dio­vas­cu­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics should have pre­sented a cog­ni­tive decline over time, as result of aging, and in this study their cog­ni­tion improved inde­pen­dently of their under­ly­ing patho­log­i­cal con­di­tion,” he added.

The sci­en­tists also noted that cog­ni­tive improve­ments were more evi­dent in men, in younger indi­vid­u­als and in sub­jects with higher edu­ca­tional level and higher MedDiet adher­ence.

See Also:Mediterranean Diet May Prevent Memory Loss and Dementia Symptoms

In turn, women, older sub­jects, those with lower edu­ca­tion, dia­betes or those that used tran­quil­iz­ers or seda­tives pre­sented smaller cog­ni­tive changes,” de la Torre said.

However, the rea­sons behind these dif­fer­ences are yet to be fully explored.


Although gen­der is known to be an impor­tant aspect when con­sid­er­ing cog­ni­tion, there is a lack of stud­ies inves­ti­gat­ing gen­der-spe­cific effects on the response to lifestyle inter­ven­tions,” de la Torre said. In the case of dia­betes, it is con­sid­ered a risk fac­tor for demen­tia and lower cog­ni­tive per­for­mance due to the harm­ful effects of poor glycemic con­trol.”

Researchers empha­sized that dietary rec­om­men­da­tions focused on pro­mot­ing the con­sump­tion of vir­gin olive oil, nuts – espe­cially wal­nuts – fruits and veg­eta­bles, whole grains, fiber-rich foods and low-fat yogurts, which have been con­sis­tently asso­ci­ated with weight loss or lower weight gain and reduced risk of obe­sity-related ill­nesses.

On the other hand, dietary rec­om­men­da­tions also encour­age par­tic­i­pants to reduce the con­sump­tion of sugar-sweet­ened bev­er­ages, fast foods, refined grain prod­ucts, white rice, pasta (except for whole-grain pasta), French fries, pota­toes, trans fats, sweets, cakes, pies, sugar, pre­cooked meals, sausages or cold cuts of processed meats, and pâté, which have been con­sis­tently asso­ci­ated with weight gain,” Soldevila-Domenech said. Therefore, the inter­ven­tion laid in the diet’s over­all qual­ity instead of the rel­a­tive macronu­tri­ent con­tent.”

Extra vir­gin olive oil was the main source of dietary fat among vol­un­teers who showed cog­ni­tive improve­ments after three years of study. All of the vol­un­teers were pro­vided with an allot­ment of extra vir­gin olive oil – one liter per month – and occa­sion­ally almonds, to pro­mote the MedDiet and encour­age com­pli­ance with the trial.

While par­tic­i­pants were given an energy-restricted MedDiet with rec­om­men­da­tions to per­form phys­i­cal activ­i­ties and focus on weight loss goals, the con­trol group fol­lowed an energy-unre­stricted MedDiet with no pro­mo­tion of such goals or activ­i­ties.

Therefore, we observed that indi­vid­ual changes in cog­ni­tion were not uni­form among par­tic­i­pants despite belong­ing to the same inter­ven­tion group,” Soldevila-Domenech said. Unraveling these dif­fer­ences between indi­vid­u­als in terms of cog­ni­tive change is cru­cial for under­stand­ing the impact of pre­ven­tive inter­ven­tions for cog­ni­tive decline.”

According to the researchers, the high con­tent of plant-based foods in the MedDiet, along with fish and mod­er­ate red wine con­sump­tion dur­ing meals, make the MedDiet rich in phe­no­lic com­pounds, N‑3 polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids and vit­a­mins that, in con­junc­tion, may con­tribute to reduced oxida­tive stress and chronic inflam­ma­tion and bet­ter neu­rovas­cu­lar health, which may explain the observed cog­ni­tive changes.”

Future research should explore the under­ly­ing mech­a­nism that explains the observed gen­der dif­fer­ences, and gen­der-spe­cific designs should be explored in future inter­ven­tion stud­ies,” de la Torre said.

Our results also sug­gest that lifestyle inter­ven­tions for weight loss should con­sider the cog­ni­tive pro­file of par­tic­i­pants in order to adapt them to individual’s cog­ni­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics and needs, par­tic­u­larly to those with obe­sity exhibit­ing a dysex­ec­u­tive pro­file,” he added.

We believe that pre­ven­tion stud­ies with a Mediterranean diet where one-size-fits-all are pre­cluded, we have to have to move to a more per­son­al­ized approach,” de la Torre con­cluded.


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