February 09, 2009
Mediterranean Diet Reduces Cognitive Impairment With Age

Still not ready to shift to the Mediterranean diet of low dairy products, low red meat, and low saturated fats? Not ready to eat more fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains? You can cut your risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease by eating the Mediterranean diet.

Nikolaos Scarmeas, M.D., and colleagues at Columbia University Medical Center, New York, calculated a score for adherence to the Mediterranean diet among 1,393 individuals with no cognitive problems and 482 patients with mild cognitive impairment. Participants were originally examined, interviewed, screened for cognitive impairments and asked to complete a food frequency questionnaire between 1992 and 1999.

Over an average of 4.5 years of follow-up, 275 of the 1,393 who did not have mild cognitive impairment developed the condition. Compared with the one-third who had the lowest scores for Mediterranean diet adherence, the one-third with the highest scores for Mediterranean diet adherence had a 28 percent lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and the one-third in the middle group for Mediterranean diet adherence had a 17 percent lower risk.

Among the 482 with mild cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study, 106 developed Alzheimer's disease over an average 4.3 years of follow-up. Adhering to the Mediterranean diet also was associated with a lower risk for this transition. The one-third of participants with the highest scores for Mediterranean diet adherence had 48 percent less risk and those in the middle one-third of Mediterranean diet adherence had 45 percent less risk than the one-third with the lowest scores.

The Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and blood vessel health overall, or reduce inflammation, all of which have been associated with mild cognitive impairment. Individual food components of the diet also may have an influence on cognitive risk. "For example, potentially beneficial effects for mild cognitive impairment or mild cognitive impairment conversion to Alzheimer's disease have been reported for alcohol, fish, polyunsaturated fatty acids (also for age-related cognitive decline) and lower levels of saturated fatty acids," they write.

My advice: wade gradually into the diet. The key isn't eating less of bad foods as much as getting better foods onto your plate. Focus on cooking more with beans, eating raw vegetables as snacks, and other moves to put better foods into your mouth. The better foods will displace the lousier foods if you reach for the better foods first. Here is the original paper.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 February 09 11:36 PM  Aging Diet Brain Studies

Hamza Davis said at February 10, 2009 9:29 AM:

We all long to feel and look good and one of the most beneficial ways to reach this goal is by choosing the right kind of Mediterranean diets. Now if we could only visit to enjoy the culture as well!

Steve Parker, M.D. said at February 10, 2009 7:03 PM:

Oldways Preservation Trust is a good source of info on the Mediterranean diet (http://www.oldwayspt.org).
Being overweight is also associated with greater incidence of dementia. You can combine loss of excess weight and the Mediterranean diet with Dr. Connie Guttersen's Sonoma Diet.

TTT said at February 10, 2009 10:16 PM:

This is how normal people ate in most of the world for most of human history.

Americans really have an astonishingly bad diet. What North Korea and Zimbabwe are to economics is what America is to dietary habits.

Randall Parker said at February 10, 2009 11:13 PM:


I can remember how much you want me to present the ideal diet. So are you eating the Mediterranean diet?

tom said at February 11, 2009 2:50 PM:

whats wrong with an even lower carb diet? why villainize red meat and saturated fat?

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