Does the Mediterranean diet ward off dementia?

Does the Mediterranean diet ward off dementia?
© iStock/OksanaKiian

A new study finds that the Mediterranean diet is not linked to a reduced risk of dementia, despite research suggesting otherwise.

In a new study published in Neurology®, researchers studied whether the popular Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of dementia. This diet consists of a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, fish, and healthy fats such as olive oil and a minimal intake of dairy products, meats and saturated fatty acids.

“Previous studies on the effects of diet on dementia risk have had mixed results,” said study author Isabelle Glans, MD, of Lund University in Sweden. “While our study does not rule out a possible association between diet and dementia, we did not find a link in our study, which had a long follow-up period, included younger participants than some other studies and did not require people to remember what foods they had eaten regularly years before.”

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is popular and hailed for its simplicity and traditionality. Reported health benefits of the diet include reducing the risk of heart disease, strengthening bones, managing diabetes and controlling blood sugar.

The Mediterranean diet provides a good source of omega-3 fatty acids from seafood and is rich in potassium and antioxidants.

Studying 28,000 participants from Sweden

In the study, the researchers identified 28,000 from Sweden. Participants were on average age 58 and did not have dementia at the start of the study. They were followed for over 20 years. The participants filled out a seven-day food diary, and a detailed food frequency questionnaire and completed an interview. At the end of the study, 6.9% of participants were diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

The researchers monitored how closely participants’ diets aligned with conventional dietary recommendations and the Mediterranean diet.

When the researchers adjusted for age, gender, and education, they did not find a link between following either a conventional diet or the Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of dementia.

Glans noted that further research is needed to confirm the findings.

Nils Peters, MD, of the University of Basel in Switzerland, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, said, “Diet on its own may not have a strong enough effect on memory and thinking, but is likely one factor among others that influence the course of cognitive function. Dietary strategies will still potentially be needed along with other measures to control risk factors.”


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