New research has suggested that a Mediterranean diet appeared to have reduced brain shrinkage in old age (between the ages of 73 and 76). The study, published in the journal Neurology, found that pensioners in Scotland those with a diet, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and even a glass of wine a day had healthier brains than those with different eating habits. It may protect the grey matter which declines as we age.
The study found that for pensioners on this diet, their brain shrinkage, which is associated with short-time memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, was half of others their age.
The benefits are believed to come from the antioxidants in the diet (found in vegetables, olive oil and even the glass of red every day which forms part of the Mediterranean diet), which is most closely associated with Italy. These are thought to reduce damage in the brain from oxidation, which leads to neural degeneration.
Lead author Dr Michelle Luciano, from the University of Edinburgh, said: “As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory.
“This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.” The latest study, published in the journal Neurology, gathered information on the dietary habits of almost 1,000 people in Scotland in their 70s.
Previous studies have found a Mediterranean diet, which is also low in meat and dairy, may protect against dementia. A Mediterranean diet was judged as one high in fruit and vegetables, beans and grains (such as wheat and rice) and the mono-unsaturated fats which is found in olive oil. It even allowed for moderate consumption of up to the equivalent of one large glass of wine a day for women or two for men. The diet has also been found to cut the risk of Parkinson’s disease and dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The study was based on 967 Scottish people in the Lothian Birth Cohort of 1936 aged around 70 and who did not have dementia. The two MRI brain scans were compared to reveal result about changes to brain structure during the three years. The results revealed that those people (aged between 73 and 76) who didn’t follow the Mediterranean diet as closely were more likely to have lost more total brain volume over the 3 years period between the scans than those people who followed the diet more closely.
When questioned about the difference in a Mediterranean diet by researchers, they explained 0.5% of the variation in total brain volume (p < 0.05), an effect that was half the size of that due to normal aging, MRI brain scans showed. The difference in diet The relationship remained after the results were adjusted for factors that could affect brain volume (such as age, education and high blood pressure or having diabetes).
Our brains shrink by 1-2 per cent per every year as we grow older and this study suggests that a Mediterranean-style diet could also potentially help to slow down this shrinking process.
More research is needed on which parts of the brain are defended, but brain shrinkage has been linked with mental illness (dementia), backing up previous research that this Mediterranean diet could protect against chronic neurodegenerative disease (Alzheimer’s).
Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific research officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘The brain, just like other parts of the body, can be affected by the way we live our lives.’ Reynolds called for further research to find a link with dementia, but added: “This study adds to previous research highlighting the importance of this kind of well-balanced diet which can help to maintain your memory healthy as you get older.”