Four groups of researchers attending a recent Alzheimer's Association International conference presented findings that add to a growing body of research on the positive impact that Mediterranean diets have on brain health.
Recent research presented by four separate American and Swedish researchers at July’s Alzheimer’s Association International conference in London have all come out in favor of a Mediterranean (or similar) diet in preventing the development of dementia and other cognitive impairing conditions.
The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference is an annual gathering of world’s largest forum of dementia researchers and is considered to be the leading platform for research into the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
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The largest study presented at the conference in favor of the Mediterranean diet was based on population-based cross-sectional research undertaken by University of California researchers that involved close to 6,000 individuals.
The findings, titled “Neuroprotective Diets Are Associated with Better Cognitive Function: The Health and Retirement Study,” examined the associations between older Americans who followed a Mediterranean or Mediterranean-DASH diet Intervention for Neurodegeneration Delay (MIND) diet and improved cognitive function. It found that those following the diets were 30 to 35 percent less likely to demonstrate poor cognitive performance and experienced less cognitive impairment, concluding with a recommendation that further studies be made of the role that dietary pattern impact on cognitive aging.
A second study presented at the conference by researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute reinforced the value of diet in cognitive performance. The study studied which dietary index could best predict preserved cognitive function in Nordic older adults and followed a group of 2,200 Swedish adults over a six-year period. The study found that those who followed the so called Nordic Prudent Dietary Pattern (NPDP) diet (which like the Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole grains and fresh produce over processed junk food) experienced better cognitive function at the end of the trial period.
A third study undertaken by researchers at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina sought to build on previous research into the role that diet plays in reducing the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers used data from a recent Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study to sort participants according to their adherence to a MIND diet and found that even those who only moderately adhered to the diet experienced a significant reduction in risk.
The final corroborating study was presented by Columbia University researchers and examined the role that inflammatory nutrient pattern played in influencing the structural and cognitive measures of brain aging in the elderly. It found that individuals who consumed a diet high in beta-carotene, cholesterol, and lutein and low in omega‑3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, calcium, folate, and vitamins were associated with poorer executive function and higher levels of inflammatory markers, indicating that diet can alter brain function and structure for the better — or worse.
It is currently estimated that by 2030 over 75 million people will have dementia. With the current global cost predicted to exceed $1 trillion in 2018, there is a need for affordable preventative measures to be developed.
The latest findings presented at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference join a growing body of research that indicates that a Mediterranean style or similar diet could be a tool to reduce the spread of dementia on an international scale.