Australian researchers have been awarded about 1.8 mil­lion Australian dol­lars ($1.2 mil­lion) in fund­ing by the coun­try’s National Health Medical Research Council (NHMRC), enabling them to con­tinue with an ongo­ing study into the effec­tive­ness of the Mediterranean diet and exer­cise in pre­vent­ing the onset of demen­tia.

The Swinburne University-based clin­i­cal trial, which will be led by Andrew Pipingas, will inves­ti­gate the under­ly­ing rea­sons behind why adher­ing to a MedDiet and reg­u­lar exer­cise pro­gram could reduce cog­ni­tive decline and become an effec­tive tool for ward­ing off demen­tia.

As it’s extremely dif­fi­cult to find a cure and treat those in the later stages of the dis­ease, focus­ing our efforts on help­ing those at risk of devel­op­ing demen­tia to stay healthy is one way to ensure Australians stay well in future.- Andrew Pipingas, researcher at Swinburne University

Pipingas believes the research could pro­vide answers on how to help the elderly stay healthy and enjoy a good qual­ity of life.

“As it’s extremely dif­fi­cult to find a cure and treat those in the later stages of the dis­ease, focus­ing our efforts on help­ing those at risk of devel­op­ing demen­tia to stay healthy is one way to ensure Australians stay well in future,” he said in a press release.

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The team will also eval­u­ate the cost-effec­tive­ness of the inter­ven­tion, which is expected to reduce both the social and eco­nomic bur­dens asso­ci­ated with demen­tia care in a grow­ing elderly pop­u­la­tion.

“We’re look­ing at poten­tially sav­ing bil­lions of dol­lars for the health indus­try,” Pipingas said. “The issue of demen­tia is going to con­tinue to be a huge deal as we face an aging pop­u­la­tion, with up to AUD$1 tril­lion ($690 bil­lion) being spent on treat­ing demen­tia over the next 40 years.”

The fund­ing will enable Swinburne and its Australian and inter­na­tional part­ner­ing insti­tu­tions to expand on an ear­lier study, which focused on how a Mediterranean diet affected the brain over time.

This study revealed that adher­ing to a Mediterranean diet improved cog­ni­tion, slowed cog­ni­tive decline and could poten­tially pre­vent the devel­op­ment of Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Lead author Roy Hardman ana­lyzed the results of 135 stud­ies on the pos­i­tive effects of a MedDiet and dis­cov­ered that the ben­e­fits were not lim­ited to par­tic­i­pants liv­ing in the Mediterranean region, but were also enjoyed by res­i­dents of var­i­ous coun­tries around the world.

Hardman con­cluded that a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in leafy greens, fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles, cere­als, beans, seeds, nuts, and legumes, with olive oil as its pri­mary source of fat, resulted in bet­ter atten­tion, mem­ory and lan­guage. Particularly pos­i­tive effects on mem­ory included delayed recog­ni­tion, long-term and work­ing mem­ory, exec­u­tive func­tion and visual con­structs.

It was found that when olive oil was the main source of dietary fat, lipid pro­files were changed which could assist in main­tain­ing a healthy weight and poten­tially reduce obe­sity. Olive oil was also attrib­uted with improv­ing polyphe­nols in the blood and boost­ing cel­lu­lar energy metab­o­lism.

Hardman linked the MedDiet with its lim­ited amounts of red meat and dairy pro­duce with reduc­ing some of the mod­i­fi­able risk fac­tors. These included increas­ing micronu­tri­ents and improv­ing vit­a­min and min­eral imbal­ances.

The next phase of the study will exam­ine the cog­ni­tive effects of the MedDiet on more than 100 Australians aged between 60 and 90 who live inde­pen­dently within care facil­i­ties for the elderly and are con­sid­ered to be men­tally healthy and the AUD$1,772,616 ($1,228,201) grant will be dis­trib­uted over four years.

The Swinburne team will be sup­ported by the University of South Australia, La Trobe University, Deakin University, Murdoch University, Sheffield Hallam University and University of East Anglia.

In 2017, researchers from the University of Louisiana-Monroe dis­cov­ered that oleo­can­thal, a com­pound found in extra vir­gin olive oil, was effec­tive in pre­vent­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease in mice and and held the poten­tial to become an effec­tive dietary sup­ple­ment for ward­ing off demen­tia.




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