Can eating a Mediterranean diet really slash your dementia risk?
A Mediterranean diet, rich in nuts, seafood, whole grains, and vegetables, is associated with up to 23% lower risk of dementia, according to scientists.
The findings published in the journal BMC Medicine, are based on data from more than 60,000 individuals from the UK Biobank – an online database of medical and lifestyle records from more than half a million Britons.
But the researchers noted the results are based mainly on European ancestry and that further studies are needed across a wider range of populations to determine the potential benefit.
However, they added that a Mediterranean diet with lots of plant-based foods could still be “an important intervention” as part of future public health strategies to reduce dementia risk.
Our study suggests that eating a more Mediterranean-like diet could be one strategy to help individuals lower their risk of dementia
Dr Oliver Shannon, lecturer in Human Nutrition & Ageing at Newcastle University, who is lead author on the study, said: “Dementia impacts the lives of millions of individuals throughout the world, and there are currently limited options for treating this condition.
“Finding ways to reduce our risk of developing dementia is, therefore, a major priority for researchers and clinicians.
“Our study suggests that eating a more Mediterranean-like diet could be one strategy to help individuals lower their risk of dementia.
Dr Shannon and his colleagues analysed data from 60,298 people who had completed a dietary assessment.
The researchers scored individuals using two measures for adherence to the Mediterranean diet.
Over the course of nearly a decade, there were 882 cases of dementia.
The authors also took into account each individual’s genetic risk for dementia.
They found that people who followed a strict Mediterranean diet had a 23% lower risk of developing dementia, compared to those who had a low adherence score.
The researchers also said the Mediterranean diet had a “protective effect” against dementia, regardless of a person’s genetic risk, but added further studies are needed to explore this finding.
Study co-author Dr Janice Ranson, Research Fellow, University of Exeter, said: “The findings from this large population-based study underscore the long-term brain health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
“The protective effect of this diet against dementia was evident regardless of a person’s genetic risk, and so this is likely to be a beneficial lifestyle choice for people looking to make healthy dietary choices and reduce their risk of dementia.”
More research is needed to build on its intriguing findings, and uncover whether these reported benefits also translate to minority communities, where historically dementia has often been misunderstood and highly stigmatised
Commenting on the study, Dr Susan Mitchell, head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “There is a wealth of evidence that eating a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
“But the evidence for specific diets is much less clear-cut.
“This new, large study adds to this overall picture, but it only drew on data from people with White, British or Irish ancestry.
“More research is needed to build on its intriguing findings, and uncover whether these reported benefits also translate to minority communities, where historically dementia has often been misunderstood and highly stigmatised, and where awareness of how people can reduce their risk is low.
“While there are no sure-fire ways to prevent dementia yet, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, along with plenty of exercise and not smoking, all contribute to good heart health, which in turn helps to protect our brain from diseases that lead to dementia.”
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