Consuming a diet relatively high in fish, fruit, legumes, vegetables, cereals and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as olive oil, was found to help. The Mediterranean diet is also low in red meat, dairy and saturated fatty acids.
Researchers conducted a nutrition study involving 512 participants with an average age of about 70. Cognitively healthy individuals made up 169 patients. The rest — 343 participants — were identified as having a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The study was conducted as part of a DZNE study that performs nationwide research on the early phase of Alzheimer’s disease. This is the time before noticeable symptoms arise.
“People in the second half of life have constant eating habits. We analyzed whether the study participants regularly eat a Mediterranean diet — and whether this might have an impact on brain health,” Wagner said in a statement.
Initially, participants completed a questionnaire where they indicated the characteristics of 148 different foods they’d consumed over the past several months. High scores emerged from individuals who often ate healthy foods associated with the Mediterranean diet and infrequently consumed foods such as red meat.
Researchers evaluated brain atrophy using MRIs and neuropsychological tests. They also examined proteins by analyzing biomarker levels.
Individuals who ate unhealthy diets had more disordered biomarker levels than people who regularly ate the Mediterranean-like diet. Regular consumption of fruits and vegetables was also shown to lead to improved memory test performance compared to eating an unhealthy diet.
“There was also a significant positive correlation between a closer adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet and a higher volume of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is considered the control center of memory. It shrinks early and severely in Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead study author Tommaso Ballarini, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Wagner’s research group.
“It is possible that the Mediterranean diet protects the brain from protein deposits and brain atrophy that can cause memory loss and dementia. Our study hints at this,” Ballarini said. “But the biological mechanism underlying this will have to be clarified in future studies.”
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