A new study out of Columbia University in New York adds to the growing literature about the Mediterranean diet and the positive influence it has on reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The latest study also emphasizes the benefits of an overall dietary pattern, and not one single nutrient, in health risk reduction.
In an analysis of more than 2000 dementia free adults aged 65 and older living in northern Manhattan by Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas, those who followed a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega 3 fatty acids were 38% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the course of the four-year study follow-up. The group had similar findings in a 2006 study using subjects from the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project (WHICAP).
The researchers studied seven individual nutrients to see if just one dietary factor was involved in the Alzheimer’s risk reduction. Rather than finding just one, the study results indicate that it was a combination of nutrients in an overall healthy diet pattern that provided the most healthful outcomes.
Two vitamin, both of which are rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, were noted to be particularly helpful in reducing risk. Folate reduces the risk of circulating homocysteine levels and vitamin E is an antioxidant, reducing the damage caused by oxidative stress.
In addition, a greater consumption of omega-3 and omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and fewer saturated fats, appear to be related to reducing the risk of dementia and poor cognitive function through atherosclerosis, thrombosis (blood clots, leading to strokes), or inflammation. They may also help reduce the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques, which is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
Of course, association doesn’t prove causation, and researchers add that eating healthy may be just one factor in an overall protective lifestyle that includes education and intellect and income levels (meaning greater access to healthcare). The study also did not measure the benefits of exercise, however, people with more healthful diets do tend to be more physically active, which could further reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Overall, a diet of more unsaturated fats, including olive oil, nuts, and fish, less saturated fats (avoiding red meat, butter, and high-fat dairy), and plenty of fruits, vegetables (particularly leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables), and whole grains is healthy not only for the brain, but also for the heart and is considered a safe and easy diet to follow to reduce health risks.
For more on the association between the Mediterranean Diet and Alzheimer’s disease, see the following past eMaxHealth articles: