Page last updated: March 4 2011
Mediterranean diet linked to slower mental decline

People who adhere to a mediterranean diet may be at lower risk from cognitive decline in old age, according to a study led by researcher Christine Tangney of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Tangney and colleagues examined the dietary habits and cognitive function of nearly 4,000 Midwesterners aged 65 and older. They rated participants using two different diet scores, one reflecting adherence to the traditional diet of the Greek population and another based on how well participants met the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. The participants’ cognitive decline was assessed every 3 years, based on measures such as word memory and basic math skills.
Out of a maximum score of 55 on the MedDiet scale reflecting a quintessential Greek diet, the average study participant received a  score of 28. And those with higher MedDiet scores appeared to have slower cognitive decline over time, even after accounting for other factors such as education.
According to the report, if there were two older adults of the same age with Mediterranean diet scores 10 points apart, for example, the individual with a 10-point higher score would perform mentally as if she or he was 3 years younger than the other adult.
“Better” scores based on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines -- which gave less weight to fish, legumes and moderate alcohol intake compared to the Mediterranean diet score -- did not appear to influence rates of cognitive decline.
The researchers point to some explanations for the effects, such as wine’s potential role in protecting the brain from damage. Traditional Mediterranean foods may also reduce oxidative stress and the inflammation that is thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.
“Incorporating more vegetables, more olive oil, fish and moderate wine consumption coupled with greater physical activity is good for our aging brains,” said Tangney.

Source: Adherence to a Mediterranean-type dietary pattern and cognitive decline in a community.  Christine C Tangney et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online December 22, 2010.
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