Eating a Mediterranean diet can help ward off memory loss in old age, according to new research.
A European study on the effects of the diet on a group of elderly French participants found the traditional diet – consisting primarily of fruit, veg, cereals and olive oil – significantly reduced the risk of cognitive decline.
The team behind the study, published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research says the healthy diet is adept at fighting the early signs of dementia.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is inspired by healthy eating habits typical to southern regions of Spain and Italy, as well as the historic Greek island of Crete.
The diet consists predominantly of unprocessed cereals, fruits, olive oil, legumes such as beans, lentils and peas, vegetables and a moderate consumption of fish, dairy products and meat.
Several studies in recent years have heralded the diet as a means of lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer incidence, diabetes and increasing longevity.
Now, fresh research on the diet from scientists at the University of Barcelona (UB) and Madrid-based medical research center CIBERFES (Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red Fragilidad y Envejecimiento Saludable), have heaped additional praise on the diet as a prevention method against cognitive decline.
The research team’s 12-year study involved a group of 840 French participants over the age of 65 from the southwestern region of Bordeaux and the eastern region of Dijon.
The majority of the participants (65 percent) were women.
Baseline levels of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, gut microbiota-derived polyphenol metabolites and other chemicals produced by plants that reflect individual bioavailability – the extent a substance becomes completely available to its intended biological destinations – were chosen as characteristics by which diseases can be identified.
Dr. Cristina Andrés-Lacueva, a professor at UB and head of the CIBERFES group, explained: “Within the framework of the study, a dietary metabolomic index has been designed, based on biomarkers obtained from the participants’ serum, on the food groups that form part of the Mediterranean diet.
“Once this index is known, its association with cognitive impairment is evaluated.”
Some of these indicators have not only been recognized as marks of exposure to the main food groups of the Mediterranean diet, but have also been held responsible for the health benefits of the Mediterranean dietary pattern.
The metabolome or set of metabolites – related to food and derived from gut microbiota activity – was studied through a large-scale analysis of the serum of the participants without dementia from the beginning of the study.
Cognitive impairment, when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating and making decisions, was assessed by five neuropsychological tests over the 12 years.
The results of the study revealed a protective association between the score of the Mediterranean diet and cognitive decline in participants.
Dr. Mercè Pallàs, a professor at the UB Neurosciences Institute, said of the study: “The use of dietary pattern indices based on food-intake biomarkers is a step forward towards the use of more accurate and objective dietary assessment methodologies that take into account important factors such as bioavailability.”
Alba Tor-Roca, first author of the study and CIBERFES researcher at the UB, said her study reinforced the known health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
“We found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet assessed by a panel of dietary biomarkers is inversely associated with long-term cognitive decline in older people,” she said.
“These results support the use of these indicators in long-term follow-up assessments to observe the health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet or other dietary patterns and therefore guide personalized counseling at older ages.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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