The saying “You are what you eat” is proving pretty accurate in regards to diet and brain health. Two studies have shown that the Mediterranean Diet has a positive influence on brain health. The Mediterranean diet is heavy in fish, healthy fats like olive oil, leafy vegetables and whole grains. It’s been shown to help cardiac patients stay healthy and keep their cholesterol and blood pressure in a healthy range and now more recent studies show it helps keep our brains in shape too.
In the first study, done at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, researchers came up with a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and another healthy diet called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.) They dubbed this diet the MIND diet, for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The study had ready subjects because they were able to get the help of volunteers already participating in the ongoing Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP), which began in 1997 among residents of Chicago-area retirement communities and senior public housing complexes. The team added an optional "food frequency questionnaire" from 2004 to February 2013. Out of 923 volunteers, there were 144 cases of Alzheimer’s disease reported. The study found
that those who reported eating the foods offered on MIND diet lowered their risk of AD by as much as 53 percent in participants who adhered to the diet almost exactly, and by about 35 percent in those who followed it moderately well.
In another study this one at Columbia University researchers used the Mediterranean diet in a group of subjects to see if it had any effect on to age related shrinkage of brain tissue. Rather than using a study population of Alzhiemer’s patients, the team at Columbia used test subjects that were over 80 years old but had normal cognitive function.
Approximately 674 healthy elderly subjects were given detailed questionaires about what they ate. They were then given MRI scans to measure brain volume of both grey and white matter. The study participants were grouped into two sections, those who followed the diet in a strict manner and those were more moderate in the diet. The people who more closely followed a Mediterranean-like diet had total brain volume that was 13.11 milliliters larger than those who did not follow the Mediterranean diet. Their gray matter volume was 5.0 milliliters larger, and their white matter volume was 6.41 milliliters larger. In a press release from Columbia
, study author Yian Gu, PhD said, “These results are exciting, as they raise the possibility that people may potentially prevent brain shrinking and the effects of aging on the brain simply by following a healthy diet.”
Gu was quick to point out that the study did not show that the Mediterranean diet prevented brain shrinkage, only that the diet was associated with less shrinkage. In an interview with Reuters
she said, “Among cognitively healthy older adults, we were able to detect an association between higher adherence to a Mediterranean type diet and better brain measures.” Check out the video to learn more about the Columbia study.