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Mediterranean diet associated with increased brain volume retention

January 09 2017. An article published online on January 4, 2017 in the journal Neurology® reports an association between adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet and greater retention of brain volume among older individuals over a three year period.

A Mediterranean diet, which is characterized by an abundance of fruit, vegetables, olive oil, beans and grains, and moderate amounts of fish and dairy products, has been linked with less inflammation, improved cognitive function, a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and decreased mortality from cancer and cardiovascular disease. The study included 401 dementia-free residents of Scotland who were approximately 70 years of age upon enrollment. Dietary questionnaire responses were scored according to Mediterranean diet adherence. Magnetic resonance imaging conducted at the ages of 73 and 76 years assessed overall and gray matter volume, as well as cortical thickness.

The researchers observed an association between lower adherence to the Mediterranean diet and a greater reduction in total brain volume over three years. The difference in diet explained 0.5% of total brain volume variation, compared to 1% variation due to normal aging. In contrast with the findings of previous research, fish and meat consumption did not show an association with brain changes. "As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory," stated first author Michelle Luciano, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh. "This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health."

"In our study, eating habits were measured before brain volume was, which suggests that the diet may be able to provide long-term protection to the brain," she added. "Still, larger studies are needed to confirm these results."