Mediterranean diet could keep aging brains sharp

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News Photo: Mediterranean diet could keep aging brains sharpBy Colin Tweedy HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY February 25, 2021 (HealthDay News)

Helping your brain stay sharp as you age can be as simple as changing the food on your plate at dinner time, a new study suggests.

The study focused on the healthy “Mediterranean” diet, a diet based on olive oil, beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with chicken and fish largely replacing Red meat. Dairy products and eggs are only used in “low to moderate amounts,” according to the American Heart Association.

Nutritionists have long touted the diet’s benefits for various health aspects, including cardiovascular health. But a team of researchers in Scotland, led by Janie Corley, wanted to see if Mediterranean dishes could also help the brain function better with age.

To do this, his team tested the mental (“cognitive”) capacity of more than 500 people with an average age of 79, none of whom showed any signs of dementia. The tests focused on problem solving, thinking speed, memory, and word knowledge, and the researchers also obtained brain MRIs of more than 350 participants.

“It is important to include both cognitive abilities and brain MRI markers in the single study, as this has the potential to deepen our understanding of the relationship between what we eat and cognitive aging,” said explained Corley, postdoctoral researcher in psychology at the University. of Edinburgh.

Participants were also asked to complete questionnaires about their usual diet over the past year.

In their initial test, people who adhered more closely to the Mediterranean diet tended to score better, according to the study. Although the study could not prove cause and effect, the diet was positively associated with improved performance in specific brain functions, such as memory, verbal ability, and visuospatial ability (people’s ability to analyze and mentally modify objects).

Even after adjusting for childhood IQ and other health and education factors, the results still showed a significant brain benefit for people adhering to a Mediterranean diet compared to those who did not. not done.

The strongest association observed was between diet and verbal ability. However, the Mediterranean diet had no effect on the structure of the brain as shown by MRI scans.

In other words, the brain seemed to work differently depending on the diet, but it didn’t look different. So what could happen?

According to Lona Sandon, registered dietitian nutritionist and professor of nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, “We could hypothesize that this has something to do with inflammation for one, as well as with others. nutrients like magnesium or folate found in leafy greens. “

Sandon also recognized the important role that healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, play in keeping the brain and body functioning at their best. These healthy fats, found in large amounts in the Mediterranean diet, help reduce inflammation in the body.

“It helps protect the blood vessels, and it’s not just the blood vessels that lead to the heart, but the blood vessels that lead to the brain and everywhere else in the body,” said Sandon, who was not involved in the new research.

Various antioxidants, also found in abundance in the Mediterranean diet, may also play a role.

On the flip side, a less healthy diet – dominated by processed foods – could have the opposite effect, the Scottish researchers warned. This is because these types of diets tend to be high in red meat, potatoes, and sweet and fried foods.

Of these, Sandon noted, red meat appears to be particularly unhealthy for the brain, possibly due to the high level of saturated fat in red meat. She added that processed foods are also high in salt, sugar, and other components that can make them both cheap and addicting.

But if you’ve been eating an unhealthy diet most of your life, is it too late to switch to a Mediterranean diet (or any other healthy diet) in your 60s or even 70s? Could the brain still benefit from it?

The answer is, it’s never too late, experts said.

“Cognitive decline is a risk factor for dementia, for which there is currently no cure,” Corley said. “Therefore, strategies to prevent or delay cognitive decline, through changes in modifiable lifestyle factors such as diet, are important in terms of public health.”


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Sandon added that the typical Mediterranean diet meal can be both healthy and delicious.

“A grilled salmon fillet might be on the plate. Maybe broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and roasted or pan-seared tomatoes. Maybe brown rice or quinoa, and there might be some oil in it. ‘olive over veg,’ she said. .

The study was recently published in the journal Experimental Gerontology.

More information

There is more on the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet at American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, associate professor, department of clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and director, Master of Clinical Nutrition Coordinated Program; Janie Corley, Postdoctoral Fellow, Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Scotland; Experimental Gerontology, December 2020

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