`Mediterranean Diet with EVOO Reduces Cognitive Decline in Older Age

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Mediterranean Diet with EVOO Reduces Cognitive Decline in Older Age

Feb. 8, 2016
Jedha Dening

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Con­fronted with the high­est rates of cog­ni­tive decline and demen­tia in his­tory, (a stag­ger­ing 47.5 mil­lion world­wide with Alzheimer’s, with 9.9 mil­lion new cases each year), los­ing one’s men­tal capac­ity is one of the biggest fears in the aging pop­u­la­tion, accord­ing to sur­veys con­ducted in the United States and Aus­tralia.

Though age is a sig­nif­i­cant risk fac­tor, researchers have been explor­ing the syn­er­gis­tic effects of whole dietary pat­terns as an influ­ence on brain health. Accord­ing to a study pub­lished by Knight, Bryan, and Mur­phy in Age­ing Research Reviews, 2016, rather than iso­lated foods and ingre­di­ents, it has now become more appar­ent that the com­bined, inter­re­lated actions of mul­ti­ple food com­po­nents within whole dietary pat­terns are thought to bring about unique syn­er­gis­tic, addi­tive, and inter­ac­tive effects in the brain.”

The Mediter­ranean diet (Med­Diet) has long been con­sid­ered one of the world’s health­i­est dietary pat­terns, so researchers Knight, Bryan, and Mur­phy set out to review the evi­dence sur­round­ing the Med­Diet, along with the con­tem­po­rary West­ern diet, and their asso­ci­a­tions with age-related cog­ni­tive decline. They also sought to deter­mine if it could be a fea­si­ble inter­ven­tion strat­egy to rec­om­mend the Med­Diet to those cur­rently con­sum­ing a West­ern dietary pat­tern.

Obe­sity is asso­ci­ated with a 70 – 100% increased risk of demen­tia. It is fairly well estab­lished that the West­ern diet is a major con­trib­u­tor to the grow­ing rates of obe­sity. The authors sug­gest that it is now becom­ing evi­dent that the clin­i­cal prob­lems related to obe­sity are trans­lat­ing to effects on brain phys­i­ol­ogy and func­tion.” There is also a con­sen­sus that par­tic­u­lar nutri­ents such as sat­u­rated, trans fats and refined sug­ars con­tribute to age-related cog­ni­tive func­tion and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease via bio­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms includ­ing inflam­ma­tion, oxida­tive stress, and insulin resis­tance.

As far as an asso­ci­a­tion between the Med­Diet and cog­ni­tive decline, sev­eral lon­gi­tu­di­nal, three cross-sec­tional, and two ran­dom­ized tri­als assessed in the review did show a gen­eral con­sen­sus that adher­ing to a Med­Diet improves mild cog­ni­tive impair­ment, Alzheimer’s and demen­tia. How­ever, due to the nature of the major­ity of the lon­gi­tu­di­nal stud­ies being per­formed in the same cohort of par­tic­i­pants, the authors sug­gest that these results may not be applic­a­ble to the wider pop­u­la­tion.

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The two ran­dom­ized con­trol tri­als, the only two in this area to date, have shown that con­sum­ing a Med­Diet with extra vir­gin olive oil (EVOO) does, in fact, improve cog­ni­tive func­tion.

The first trial pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Neu­rol­ogy, Neu­ro­science & Psy­chi­a­try, 2013, selected 552 par­tic­i­pants with car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease to con­duct a 5 year trial with a mean fol­low-up of 6.5 years. Par­tic­i­pants were ran­dom­ized to a low-fat diet or a Med­Diet sup­ple­mented with EVOO or mixed nuts. The Med­Diet group had sig­nif­i­cantly higher global cog­ni­tive scores com­pared to the low-fat group.

The sec­ond trial, pub­lished in JAMA Inter­nal Med­i­cine, 2015, selected 447 par­tic­i­pants with high car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk who were ran­domly allo­cated to either a Med­Diet sup­ple­mented with EVOO; Med­Diet sup­ple­mented with mixed nuts; or a con­trol low-fat diet. Par­tic­i­pants were required to undergo a series of cog­ni­tive tests 4.1 years after the inter­ven­tion. Over­all the MedDiet+EVOO scored sig­nif­i­cantly higher for two of the tests com­pared to both groups. The MedDiet+EVOO group and MedDiet+mixed nuts saw sig­nif­i­cant respec­tive changes from base­line in mem­ory, frontal (atten­tion and exec­u­tive func­tions), and global func­tion com­pared to the con­trol group.

Though there are likely many syn­er­gis­tic effects of the Med­Diet in its influ­ence on improved cog­ni­tive func­tion, researchers claim that the inclu­sion of olive oil, par­tic­u­larly because of it’s high lev­els of caf­feic acid and tyrosol, reduces mark­ers of inflam­ma­tion in the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem and has the abil­ity to sup­press neu­roin­flam­ma­tion in the brain.

Over­all the research does sug­gest that a Med­Diet is the best strat­egy to rec­om­mend to peo­ple who want to decrease their rate of cog­ni­tive decline, Alzheimer’s, demen­tia, or mild cog­ni­tive impair­ment. Still, while this may be the case, researchers do sug­gest that due to socio-cul­tural val­ues, norms, food avail­abil­ity, cost, palata­bil­ity, and food access, get­ting peo­ple to change their dietary pat­terns can often be dif­fi­cult to achieve. They sug­gest that a more West­ern­ized” Med­Diet inter­ven­tion could be a more fea­si­ble long-term approach worth explor­ing in future research.


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