Subjects: Behavioral health
The Mediterranean diet may protect against age-related cognitive decline, according to 2 studies published in JAMA.
The diet, which is long on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish, and short on red meat and poultry, has already been lauded for its cardio-protective and cancer preventing effects.
The first of the 2 studies, organized by Nikolaos Scarmeas and colleagues at Columbia, showed that the diet and physical activity were independently associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Scarmeas’ team enrolled 1,880 older patients with no cognitive impairment at study onset, and performed neuropsychological testing every 18 months for a mean follow-up of 5.4 years.
Alzheimer’s disease was diagnosed in 282 subjects during the study. Subjects who followed the Mediterranean diet were 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who did not.
Similarly, a high amount of physical activity, which the scientists defined for this elderly population to be 1.3 hours of vigorous, 2.4 hours of moderate, or 4 hours of light physical activity per week, cut the risk of Alzheimer’s by 33%.
In the second study, Catherine Feart and colleagues at Universite Victor Segalen showed that the Mediterranean diet slowed cognitive decline, though it did not decrease the risk of dementia per se.
In particular, Feart’s team found that those adhering to the diet had fewer errors on the Mini Mental State Examination, but performed no better on 3 other tests of cognition.
In an accompanying editorial, the Mayo Clinic’s David Knopman said the 2 studies “provide moderately compelling evidence that adherence to the Mediterranean-type diet is linked to less late-life cognitive impairment.”
Whether these findings “should be translated into recommendations for the public is the question,” added Knopman. “For now, it is reasonable to nibble on these findings and savor them, but not to swallow them whole.”