Researchers Increasingly See Diet as Weapon in Fight Against Alzheimer's

by Dorian Martin Patient Advocate

I just agreed to sign up for another season of the community supported agriculture program that serves my area. We had a break in service, but the fall season will mean resumed weekly deliveries of a share of a farmer's harvest. The people who are currently receiving a summer CSA share were scheduled to get a weekly share of arugula, basil, bok choy, cucumbers, eggplant or bulb fennel, long beans, mizuna, okra, chili peppers, sweet peppers, salad turnips and sweet potato greens. And I also have started purchasing bulk fish filets and shrimp from a seafood provider, thus giving me another option other than beef, chicken and pork chops to make for dinner.

So why am I telling you this in an Alzheimer's sharepost? It's because researchers are increasingly finding evidence that a healthy diet - specifically a Mediterranean diet -- may serve as a "drug" that can help not only improve your brain function, but also protect you from dementia.

A new study out of University of Exeter Medical School in the United Kingdom involved the first systematic review of the literature in which researchers analyzed numerous studies about a Mediterranean diet and cognitive function for consistencies, inconsistencies and common trends.

The researchers reviewed 12 pieces of research. Eleven of these studies were observational while one was a randomized control trial. Their analysis found that in 75 percent of all the studies, a higher adherence to eating a Mediterranean diet was associated not only with better cognitive function, but also with lower rates of cognitive decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers did notice that their analysis found that the results regarding the effect of this type of diet on mild cognitive impairment was inconsistent.

"Mediterranean food is both delicious and nutritious, and our systematic review shows it may help to protect the ageing brain by reducing the risk of dementia," said Dr. Illiana Lourida, who was the study's lead researcher. "While the link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and dementia risk is not new, ours is the first study to systematically analyse all existing evidence. Our review also highlights inconsistencies in the literature and the need for further research. In particular research is needed to clarify the association with mild cognitive impairment and vascular dementia. It is also important to note that while observational studies provide suggestive evidence we now need randomized controlled trials to confirm whether or not adherence to a Mediterranean diet protects against dementia."

So what does a Mediterranean diet consist of? First of all, Oldways, which is a continuing professional education accredited provider, points out that this type of diet is really not a "diet" in the sense of only eating it for a short period of time. Instead, it is a lifestyle.

Oldways, the Harvard School of Public Health and the European Office of the World Health Organization introduced the classic Mediterranean diet in 1993. They also developed the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid to graphically represent the pyramid. The diet is based on the dietary traditions of Crete Greece as well as southern Italy around 1960. At this time, the rate of chronic disease among populations in those areas was among the lowest in the world. Furthermore, adult life expectancy was among the highest even though the population had limited access to health care.
This lifestyle includes:

Being physically active.

Enjoying meals with others.

Fostering a deep appreciation for the pleasures of healthy eating and delicious food.

Basing every meal on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds herbs and spices.

Consuming fish and seafood at least two times per week.

Eating moderate portions of poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt. These can be eaten daily to weekly.

Drinking water.

Drinking wine in moderation.

Only eating meats (pork, beef, lamb, mutton and goat) and sweets rarely.
Based on the research that's been done on this particular diet, I think it's worth it to consistently making these types of food choices in order to encourage healthy aging and brain health. I hope you, too, will begin to opt for this type of eating plan
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Oldways. (Nd). Mediterranean diet pyramid.
University of Exeter. (2013). Research confirms Mediterranean diet is good for the mind.

Dorian Martin
Meet Our Writer
Dorian Martin

Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.