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.
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.