In what’s being called the largest study of its kind, new research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham has linked the Mediterranean diet to a reduced risk of thinking and memory problems.
The study, published in the April 30 issue of Neurology and supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, used data from the “Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke” study, analyzing 17,478 African-Americans and Caucasians with an average age of 64. Participants were followed over a four-year period, with researchers keeping close tabs on their diets and recording their cognitive functioning based on memory and thinking tests.
Healthy participants who closely followed the Mediterranean diet — a diet high in fruits, vegetables and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as olive oil and fish, and low in meat and meat products — were 19% less likely to develop thinking and memory problems. However, these risks were not affected by the diet in people with diabetes.
“Diet is an important modifiable activity that could help in preserving cognitive functioning in late life,” said Georgios Tsivgoulis, a neurologist with UAB and the University of Athens, Greece. “However, it is only one of several important lifestyle activities that might play a role in late-life mental functioning. Exercise, avoiding obesity, not smoking cigarettes and taking medications for conditions like diabetes and hypertension are also important.”