Can a Mediterranean diet help prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

  • The Mediterranean diet is hard to beat for health reasons. In the article Is Heart-Healthy Good for the Brain? the Mediterranean diet was addressed because of the "healthy fats" from fish and olive oil, as well as the dependence on vegetables as a key staple. This diet is a "dream diet" from the standpoint of many nutritionists.


    Some studies have pointed to the Mediterranean diet as a way to stave off Alzheimer's and other dementias. The general theme seems to be that this basically healthful diet represents good eating habits for most of us, and that there could be some benefit to the brain beyond the fact that it is considered "heart-healthy"- as in "what's good for the heart is good for the brain."

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    A recent New York Times story, titled Aging: Mediterranean Diet as Brain Food, cites a study that offers something close to actual confirmation of the "Mediterranean diet theory."


    The study took into consideration the participant's smoking history, education, obesity level, hypertension and other health risks. With those controls in place, the study showed that people who followed the Mediterranean diet were cognitively about two years younger than those who didn't follow the diet.  Subjects tested were Chicago residents 65 and older.


    This particular study was published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition."  As with most scientific studies, there are disclaimers. In this case, the authors "acknowledged that they could not account for all possible variables, and cautioned that it was an observational study that draws no conclusions about cause and effect."


    Studies pro and con

    I've read, and written  about studies that show certain drugs or foods could protect our brains from Alzheimer's disease and other dementia, only to later read - and write about - a contradictory study. I've read studies that show that highly educated people get Alzheimer's less often than less educated people, only to later read studies that show these folks get AD just as often, but the decline takes longer to be noticed. I've read studies that show people who have social networks are less likely to get Alzheimer's, only to note that one of the brightest and most social people I've ever known died not long ago from Alzheimer's disease.


    I will say, however, that I've never read a study that shows  clogged arteries, sluggish metabolism, zoning out with a TV soap opera while munching potato chips and ignoring all social connections will keep us glowing with good health.

    It seems to me that when we consider study results, as with so much else, common sense applies. Every person is different. Families carry different genetic risks. Personalities and lifestyles vary. We will always see these factors come into play.


    Nearly any of us can offer one or more  exceptions to the latest studies about any disease. Yet, most of us would agree - even those of us who aren't diligent about following the good advice we get from our doctors and nutritionists - that a diet high in vegetables, low in saturated fats, and light on desserts would be a healthful move in the right direction.


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    This story in the New York Times about the latest study on the Mediterranean diet isn't the last we'll see on the subject. However, I expect that we will see news articles reminding us that this diet is good for us, whether or not it protects us from AD. If a healthier brain is the result, that would be a really amazing bonus.


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Published On: January 24, 2011