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Mediterranean Diet Has Mind-Boosting Benefits

Mediterranean Diet Has Mind-Boosting Benefits: Main Image
Well known for its heart health and cancer protection benefits, the Mediterranean diet may also be good for the mind
Well known for its heart health and cancer protection benefits, the Mediterranean diet may also be good for the mind. A new report, published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, suggests that people may reduce Alzheimer's disease risk by as much as 40% by closely following the Mediterranean diet.

Diet linked to less dementia

Often publicized in the media, the Mediterranean diet includes an abundance of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and dairy products; a low to moderate amount of fish and poultry; a low amount of red meat; olive oil as a main source of monounsaturated fat; and red wine with dinner.

This current report reviewed prospective studies, one from the US and one from France, on the effects of a Mediterranean diet on the thinking (cognitive function) and risk for dementia in people 65 and older. The eating habits and cognitive function for the participants was assessed and the effects followed for four years. Results showed:

  • In the US study, people who strictly followed the Mediterranean diet had a 40% less risk of developing Alzheimer's disease compared with people who did not strictly follow the diet.
  • In the French study, people who strictly followed the Mediterranean diet had significantly better cognitive and memory performance compared with people who did not strictly follow the diet. In this study, there was no association between the Mediterranean diet and risk of dementia.

The authors of the report point out that the people who follow a Mediterranean diet may also engage in other healthy lifestyle behaviors such as exercise, which contribute to their lowered risk of dementia. So it still isn't clear to what extent the beneficial effects were caused by the diet.

Keep your mind sharp

Dementia is a common condition, but studies like the one above suggest there are things we can do to keep our minds sharp and healthy. Here are some tips:

  • Talk with your doctor. If you notice changes in your ability to remember things such as names or activities you recently participated in, talk with your doctor. Such changes may be associated with dementia, but often are the result of anxiety, depression, medication side effects, and normal changes associated with aging.
  • Get out there and move. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and when combined with a healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet the risk may be even less. Healthy people should exercise every day if possible, and those with limited physical abilities or who suffer from a medical condition should talk with their doctor about the best exercise options.
  • Stimulate your brain. Studies have shown that people who regularly engage in mind-stimulating activities and games may slow the decline in memory and cognitive function associated with aging. Crossword puzzles, Scrabble, Sudoku, and chess are examples of fun and mind-engaging games.
  • Drink moderately, don't smoke. Over time, both smoking and excess alcohol can damage the mind's ability to think clearly. Stick to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

(Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2010;13:14-8)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.
 
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