TheBUZZ: The Mediterranean Diet promotes brain health?
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
According to a new study, the Mediterranean Diet may reduce small-vessel damage to the brain, decreasing the risk for stroke and dementia.
WHAT WE KNOW
The Mediterranean Diet is based on the healthy eating and lifestyle habits of people living in southern Italy, the Greek island of Crete and other areas of Greece in the early 1960s. The diet has become a popular area of study due to observations made in the 1960s of low incidences of chronic diseases, such as heart disease. The Mediterranean Diet gained much recognition and worldwide interest in the 1990s as a model for healthy eating.
Main components of the Mediterranean Diet …
- Unrefined Carbohydrates. High consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, potatoes, and beans.
- Wine. Moderate consumption of wine.
- Fish. Eat fish (especially oily) 3 to 4 times a week.
- Low-Fat Milk. Drink/eat low-fat milk and derivatives (cheese and yogurt).
- Eggs. Limit eggs to 3 to 4 per week.
- Red Meat. Limit red meat and saturated fats.
- Nuts. Eat nuts and seeds as snacks.
- Olive Oil. High consumption of virgin olive oil.
Following the Mediterranean Diet has already been linked with a decreased risk for developing heart disease, but new studies are looking at the diet’s effect on brain health.
HOW DO WE KNOW THIS?
In a recent study published in Archives of Neurology, brain scans were evaluated in individuals that follow the Mediterranean Diet closely. Researchers looked at white matter hypersensitivity volume (WMHV) levels in the brain. WMHV is an indicator of small blood vessel damage in the brain and is detected by magnetic resonance screening (MRI). WMHV can be found in the average person as he or she ages. Previous studies have shown that high amounts of WMHV in the brain can predict a higher risk of stroke and dementia.
Researchers compared the brain scans and diets of 966 adults with an average age of 72. The participants’ reported diets were rated according to how closely they followed the Mediterranean Diet. The results showed that those who most closely followed the diet had a lower measure of WMHV than those who did not.
This benefit remained consistent even after adjusting for other risk factors for small blood vessel damage in the brain, like smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels.*
More studies on the role of diet and decreased risk of stroke and dementia is needed; however, this diet is very similar to the dietary guidelines recommended for Americans. It encourages plenty of fruits and vegetables, which have been correlated with decreased risk of many of the leading causes of death! New research surfaces daily, suggesting that fruits and vegetables have a greater role than has yet to be discovered!
Just remember that when it comes to protecting yourself from many chronic diseases, eating your recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day (or more!), and decreasing your saturated fat intake (like butter, bacon and other animal sources) are two important elements of any diet.
And those healthy fats? Many fruits and vegetables (avocados, soybeans, etc.) and nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts) also contain the heart-healthy fats that are characteristic of the Mediterranean Diet.
*Gardener, H., N. Scarmeas, G. Yian, et al. “Mediterranean Diet and White Matter Hypersensitivity Volume in the Northern Manhattan Study.” Archives of Neurology (2012), 69(2), 251-56.