Researchers in Boston found diabetics might have healthier brain function if they adhere to a Mediterranean diet (MedDiet). The eating plan was linked to better memory, word recognition and other cognitive skills.

Both adhering to a Mediterranean diet and effectively managing Type 2 diabetes may support optimal cognitive function.- Harvard researchers

“Consuming foods and nutrients characteristic of the Mediterranean dietary pattern has been consistently associated with better cognitive function among adults and older adults,” Josiemer Mattei, assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote.

“As consuming a Mediterranean diet has been associated with prevention and control of Type 2 diabetes, this dietary pattern may have dual benefits for both Type 2 diabetes and cognition,” the study’s authors added.

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In the study, Mattei and the research team followed 465 adults with Type 2 diabetes and 711 adults without the disease. The participants were enrolled in the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study from 2004 to 2007.

Using food questionnaires at baseline and at the two-year point, the researchers evaluated adherence to the following eating plans: MedDiet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, Healthy Eating Index and Alternative Healthy Eating Index. In addition, they monitored blood glucose and assessed cognitive ability using seven neuropsychological tests.

The results showed a link between stricter adherence to the MedDiet and healthier cognition for Type 2 diabetics at two years in comparison to baseline. However, this benefit was only noted in participants with stable glucose levels. When the individuals had poor or declining blood glucose control, the link disappeared.

Mattei told Olive Oil Times why the MedDiet appeared to trump other healthy diets in enhancing cognition in diabetics.

“It’s important to note that the benefits of the MedDiet over other healthy diets were noted only among patients with Type 2 diabetes,” he said. “Among those without Type 2 diabetes, all healthy diets equally helped improve memory function.”

“Two factors may underlie the cognitive benefits of the MedDiet in patients with Type 2 diabetes,” he added. “First, a healthy MedDiet includes antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables, as well as fish and nuts; foods that are plentiful in healthy fats. These nutrients help sustain cognitive function by reducing inflammation and oxidation in the brain.”

“Secondly, the MedDiet includes whole grains and legumes that assist in keeping blood sugar at healthy levels,” Mattei continued. “Keeping Type 2 diabetes controlled helps lower metabolic oxidation products and sustains efficient insulin action, which plays a role in cognitive processes. Therefore, the diet may have dual benefits on cognition and blood sugar control.”

“Both adhering to a Mediterranean diet and effectively managing Type 2 diabetes may support optimal cognitive function,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion. “Healthy diets, in general, can help improve memory function among adults without Type 2 diabetes.”


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