A Mediterranean diet could be effective against brain damage associated with aging, according to a new study. Researchers have discovered that brain shrinkage could be reduced as a result of healthy eating, which could protect old people from suffering cognitive loss.
Up until this study, published Jan. 4, in the journal Neurology, researchers knew that a healthy diet is important. However, it had only been linked to preventing dementia, and not with maintaining the entire cognitive system in the brain.
Healthy Diet Could Prevent Cognitive Impairment
As we advance in life, our cognitive capacities naturally diminish. Starting with early adulthood, our brains progressively reduce in size, as they lose nerve cells and synapses. This process is more accelerated among older people, and it can have serious cognitive consequences. Various diseases are associated with this natural entropic process, among which are Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
As part of the research, scientists analyzed the dietary habits of a group of people who do not have dementia and who were all born in 1936. The group, composed of members of the 1936 Lothian Birth Club, participated in a mental ability test when they were 11, as well as a series of follow-up researches since then. Therefore, they represented the perfect target for the comparative analysis of cognitive capacities and lifestyles throughout the entire life.
Additionally, 401 of these people volunteered to be MRI scanned twice, throughout a period of approximately three years, at ages 73 and 76. The subjects' brains and the thickness of their cerebral cortexes were measured as part of the research, these being the main indicators of the comparison employed in the study.
According to the results, subjects who had reported having a healthier diet with a Mediterranean orientation experienced the least brain shrinkage among the entire group in between the two MRI scans conducted three years apart. Consequently, the Mediterranean diet was classified as the healthiest life-long dietary habit. Essentially, it involves a focus on vegetables, fruits, olive oil and cereals, some fish and dairy, and little red meat.
"As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory," noted Dr Michelle Luciano, of the University of Edinburgh, author of the study.
Mediterranean Diet, A Healthy Option
Until this study, the Mediterranean diet was already considered to be a very healthy long-term habit, due to its many benefits, among which are reducing the rates of heart attack, stroke and premature death risks, and improving health conditions in general, such as hypertension, cholesterol and metabolic issues.
During the last few years, researchers have struggled to understand the underlying mechanisms employed by our dietary habits and their effects on our overall health status. Additionally, scientific efforts were also conducted toward understanding the best means of preserving our brain volume, in relation with different edible types such as red meat or olive oil.
However, this study does not asses that a Mediterranean diet alone will do wonders. Needless to point out, there are a series of complicated factors which can contribute to our cognitive capacities as we get old, such as educational status or intelligence. It has been previously proven that keeping our minds busy and conducting consistent cognitive efforts even as we age can slow down the brain shrinking process and its associated effects.