The traditional Mediterranean diet consists of a certain eating habit like those from Greece and other countries situated around the Mediterranean Sea. It has been researched heavily that the food we eat affects our longevity and likelihood of disease. Certain dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet are well known to contribute to disease prevention, such as decreased occurrence of coronary heart disease, cancer, and lower inflammation. Now, researchers have tested other areas that are affect by our nutritional habits, specifically the brain, and concluded that those who follow a Mediterranean diet retain larger brain volume than those who don’t follow the diet as conservatively.

The traditional Mediterranean diet is consistent with a large intake of vegetables, legumes, olive oil, and small intake of fish, wine, and little to no meat. Consumption of a multitude of vitamins, including folate, as well as ethanol and unsaturated fatty acids is correlated to a retention of brain tissue, and reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease.  A composite nutritional palate rich in vitamins, ethanol, and fatty acids together from the Mediterranean diet create a cohesive pattern of slower cognitive decline whereas it has not been found true in the data to have the same affects by consuming foods that are not balanced in all these nutrients.

The most recent study completed on the Mediterranean diet’s effects on cognitive functions was by Michelle Luciano et. al.  at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, who gathered a large study of 967 elderly men aged around 70 years old who did not have dementia. The study was a six-year study where the subjects came to take MRI scans every three years of the gray matter of their brain. Consistency with the Mediterranean diet was tracked, and those who did not follow the Mediterranean diet religiously were found to have a decrease in brain size, upwards to .5% total brain volume. Factors such as education, diseases, and age were taken into consideration with the data.

Results of the study contained positive change in gray matter volume when consuming fish, while a negative gray matter volume was observed when consuming high levels of meat or extreme deviation from the Mediterranean diet. Although these are in accordance with the results that the Mediterranean diet is conclusive with slower cognitive decline, the incidence of this occurring in nature was too great, with p-values exceeding .279. Thus, Luciano’s team has concluded that the consumption of high levels of fish alone must not be the answer to why the Mediterranean diet is so effective, but rather a complete nutrient profile. 

Researchers from previous studies who have tackled similar problems have all concluded with Michelle Luciano’s team that there is not a single component that is influential towards causing slower cognitive decline, but rather the complex variation of vitamins, minerals, and other combinations of required components that are highly valued to nutrition and keeping with a balanced diet.

Closing remarks by the Luciano team acknowledged that the diet can provide long term prevention of brain volume, but this must be followed by additional studies and research to confirm these suspicions and results.

 

COPYRIGHT: This article is property of We Speak Science, a non profit institution co-fonded by Dr. Detina Zalli (Harvard University) and Dr. Argita Zalli (Imperial College London). The article is written by Detina Zalli and Antonio Del Vecchio (Cornell University).

 

References:

  • Trichopoulou, Antonia, et al. "Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and survival in a Greek population." New England Journal of Medicine 348.26 (2003): 2599-2608.
  • Scarmeas, Nikolaos, et al. "Mediterranean diet and risk for Alzheimer's disease." Annals of neurology 59.6 (2006): 912-921.
  • Kmietowicz, Z. (2015). Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced brain shrinkage in older people, study finds. BMJ : British Medical Journal (Online), 351doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cornell.edu/10.1136/bmj.h5556
  • Michelle Luciano, Janie Corley, Simon R. Cox, Maria C. Valdés Hernández, Leone C.A. Craig, David Alexander Dickie, Sherif Karama, Geraldine M. McNeill, Mark E. Bastin, Joanna M. Wardlaw, Ian J. Deary. Mediterranean-type diet and brain structural change from 73 to 76 years in a Scottish cohort. Neurology, 2017
  • https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170104174210.htm

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