Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Cognitive Decline in Elders
- Tue, 5/15/12 - 2:05pm
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Although there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers continue to find data supporting the role of various diets in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases. In a study published in February 2012 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers based in Barcelona, Spain, reported that certain antioxidant-rich foods promoted as part of the popular Mediterranean diet may help counteract age-related cognitive decline and possibly reduce the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases. The Mediterranean diet is commonly marketed as one that lowers the risk of heart disease, as it emphasizes high consumption of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits; low consumption of meat and salt; and moderate consumption of dairy products and wine. The cross-sectional study included 447 adults aged 55 to 80 years who were part of PREDIMED, a dietary intervention trial of asymptomatic individuals with high cardiovascular risk.
After evaluating the intake of various foods by neuropsychological tests to assess cognition in the study participants, the researchers identified that virgin olive oil, coffee, walnuts, and wine were associated with better memory function and overall cognition. Polyphenol content was also analyzed in the participants’ urine as a biomarker of daily antioxidant intake. It is commonly known that antioxidants protect cells against the damaging effects of free radicals; however, according to the study, the findings on olive oil and walnuts are novel. Specifically, the researchers noted that walnuts are not only antioxidant-rich, but also contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory properties and can protect brain cells from oxidative processes that are thought to play a major part in age-related cognitive decline. In addition, “another novel finding is the independent association of total urinary polyphenol excretion, an objective biomarker of polyphenol-rich food intake, with memory function,” the authors wrote in the study. The authors concluded that although causality cannot be inferred from their single study, it supports the increased consumption of antioxidant-rich foods as part of a healthy diet and shows the potential of these foods to reduce the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.