New research suggests a diet rich in plant foods and healthy fat may do more than protect from cardiovascular disease and diabetes — it could have a positive impact on cognitive function.
The Mediterranean diet has gained widespread acceptance over the past 30 years as a diet that blends good-tasting food, a dash of wine and a healthy lifestyle that incorporates physical activity.
The new research is the first investigation to combine and review 12 different research studies on the impact of the diet and cognitive functions.
Investigators discovered the diet had a positive impact on cognitive function, but an inconsistent effect on mild cognitive impairment.
Until now there not been a systematic review of research in which a number of studies regarding a Mediterranean diet and cognitive function are reviewed for consistencies, common trends and inconsistencies.
A team of researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School carried out the systematic review and report their findings in the journal Epidemiology.
The team analyzed 12 eligible pieces of research, 11 observational studies and one randomized control trial.
In nine out of the 12 studies, a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with better cognitive function, lower rates of cognitive decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
However, results for mild cognitive impairment were inconsistent.
A Mediterranean diet typically consists of higher levels of olive oil, vegetables, fruit and fish. Greater adherence to the diet means higher daily intakes of fruit and vegetables and fish, and reduced intakes of meat and dairy products.
The study was led by researcher Iliana Lourida.
According to Lourida: “Mediterranean food is both delicious and nutritious, and our systematic review shows it may help to protect the ageing brain by reducing the risk of dementia.”
Although the link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and dementia risk is not new, the study is the first to systematically analyze all existing evidence.
She added: “Our review also highlights inconsistencies in the literature and the need for further research. In particular research is needed to clarify the association with mild cognitive impairment and vascular dementia.”
As in most applied research, the discovery of a link between diet and improved cognitive skills is the first step. Additional research with randomized clinical trials will determine if a true cause and effect relationship exists, and whether or not adherence to a Mediterranean diet protects against dementia.
Source: University of Exeter