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Does the Mediterranean Diet Help to Prevent Alzheimer’s?

The Mediterranean diet has been touted for numerous long-term health benefits including good heart health, decreased inflammation and a longer life. It’s said to reduce the incidence of developing cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological disorders. In fact, science has not come up with a definitive reason for why people develop Alzheimer’s or factors that might have a protective effect against developing the disease; however, it appears that the Mediterranean diet may be good for your brain.1

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of age-related dementia. Brain changes can take place years before symptoms appear.2

What is the Mediterranean diet?

Eating a healthy diet is an important component to staying physically and mentally fit. The Mediterranean diet is based on eating plant-based foods, greater amounts of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and fewer animal-based proteins. Consuming fish, olive oil and nuts, along with the moderate drinking of wine comprise the fundamentals of the lifestyle in many Mediterranean countries. Eating fish could also be positive for general health and for addressing age-related dementia and cognitive decline.

Making smart food choices

The Mediterranean lifestyle includes eating 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and reducing fatty high-cholesterol foods. Choosing heart-healthy options like olive oil instead of butter, honey instead of sugar, and vegetables instead of meat can be both good for your waistline and good for your mind. Antioxidants, considered protective against some damage to brain cells, are at higher levels due to the increased intake of fruits and vegetables, which may have a protective effect against some of the brain cell damage associated with Alzheimer’s.3

Reducing the risk for dementia

Adapting your lifestyle in numerous ways including diet and exercise, not smoking, controlling cholesterol, and managing blood pressure levels can all promote good brain health. These lifestyle changes include reducing inflammation and cholesterol levels, which have been suggested by physicians and nutritionists over the years may impact memory problems.3 These changes are not only beneficial at a younger age but may reduce the risk of developing age-related dementias.2

What does the research show?

No definitive link has been identified between the Mediterranean diet and risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Comparative scientific studies between people eating a Mediterranean diet versus those eating a Western diet suggest that people who eat the Mediterranean diet are less likely to have Alzheimer’s. They may experience a slower cognitive decline as they age, reducing the risk of mild cognitive impairment and subsequent brain tissue loss.1

Differences seen in PET scans – which show brain activity – appear to be more pronounced in women who eat the Mediterranean diet compared to a Western diet. According to researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, those consuming a Western diet had higher amounts of beta-amyloid protein deposits than those who ate a Mediterranean diet. These differences may be suggestive of the early signs of developing dementia.2

More research is needed

Until now, studies have not been broad-based, either on diverse populations or on a large scale, and further research is necessary to assess potential benefits. The Mediterranean diet, rich in grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein appears to generate a protective effect as opposed to the standard Western diet full of red meat, diary, saturated fats, and sugar. The differences may influence the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease with the progression being delayed by more than three years for those who have followed the Mediterranean diet over a period of years.2 Following the Mediterranean diet is beneficial to a healthy lifestyle, which may play a role in maintaining good brain function.3

  1. Graff-Radford, J. Can a Mediterranean diet lower my risk of Alzheimer's? Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/expert-answers/alzheimers-disease/faq-20058062. Accessed 6.2.19.
  2. Reynolds, S. Mediterranean diet may slow development of Alzheimer’s disease. Available at: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/mediterranean-diet-may-slow-development-alzheimers-disease. Accessed 6.3.19.
  3. Mediterranean diet and dementia. Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/fluoride-can-cause-degenerative-eye-diseases-study-shows-300813859.html. Accessed 6.3.19.

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