A pretty clear scientific consensus holds that the so-called “Mediterranean” diet helps protect heart health.
And research showing potential brain health benefits from Mediterranean-style diets keeps growing as well.
This isn’t surprising, since cardiovascular disease and dementia share degenerative pathways and appear influenced by similar dietary factors.
We covered some of the relevant research in three articles:
And in 2005, researchers at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center found that participants in the Chicago Healthy Aging Project who ate fish twice a week slowed their age-associated loss of mental function by 13 percent per year.
Now a Rush Center team reports on their analysis of six years’ worth of diet and health data collected from 3,759 people in the same Chicago Healthy Aging Project, all aged over 65.
Chicago study associates Mediterranean diet with slower brain decline
Every three years, the volunteers filled out a diet survey, and took tests of their memory and basic thinking skills.
After six years, the researchers analyzed how closely each of the participants adhered to an idealized Mediterranean diet … one defined as favoring vegetables, beans, fish, fruit, nuts, whole grains, olive oil (especially extra virgin), and moderate wine drinking.
Out of a maximum score of 55, meaning closest adherence to the defined Mediterranean diet, the average study participant scored 28.
The highest-scoring people were also those whose cognitive tests showed a slower rate of mental decline… after accounting for protective factors such as levels of activity, education, and mental exercise.
The researchers also analyzed how closely study participants adhered to the recommendations from the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
In contrast, closest adherence to the 2005 U.S. diet guidelines—which gave less weight to fish, beans, and moderate drinking—did not correspond with differences in rates of cognitive decline.
Christy Tangney, Ph.D., who led the study, said that the results support other studies showing that eating close to the ideal Mediterranean diet pattern reduces the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes.
“The more we can incorporate vegetables, olive oil, and fish into our diets and moderate wine consumption, the better for our aging brains and bodies,” Tangney said.
The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.
Rush University Medical Center (RUMC). Mediterranean Diet Associated With Slower Rate of Cognitive Decline. January 03, 2011. Accessed at http://www.rush.edu/webapps/MEDREL/servlet/NewsRelease?ID=1455
Tangney CC, Kwasny MJ, Li H, Wilson RS, Evans DA, Morris MC. Adherence to a Mediterranean-type dietary pattern and cognitive decline in a community population. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Dec 22. [Epub ahead of print]