A recent study found that following a traditional Mediterranean diet, which is high in foods like fish, fruit, and nuts, may help reduce the risk of dementia by almost a quarter.
Researchers at Newcastle University discovered that people who followed a diet similar to the Mediterranean had up to 23% lower chance of developing dementia than those who did not.
This study, which was just published in BMC Medicine, is one of the largest of its sort because most other studies only included modest sample sizes and small numbers of dementia cases.
Data from 60,298 individuals from the UK Biobank, a sizable cohort that included people from all over the UK and who had finished a dietary assessment, was examined by researchers.
The authors gave each person a score based on how closely their diet resembled the essential components of a Mediterranean diet. There were 882 incidences of dementia over the participants’ nearly ten-year follow-up period.
The scientists calculated each person’s polygenic risk—a measure of all the many genes associated with dementia risk—in order to take into account their genetic propensity for dementia.
Dr. Oliver Shannon, Lecturer in Human Nutrition and Ageing, Newcastle University, led the study with Professor Emma Stevenson and joint senior author Professor David Llewellyn. The research also involved experts from the universities of Edinburgh, UEA, and Exeter.
Dr. Shannon said, “Dementia impacts the lives of millions of individuals throughout the world, and there are currently limited options for treating this condition. Finding ways to reduce our risk of developing dementia is, therefore, a major priority for researchers and clinicians. Our study suggests that eating a more Mediterranean-like diet could be one strategy to help individuals lower their risk of dementia.”
The researchers discovered no statistically significant interaction between the relationships between Mediterranean diet adherence and the polygenic risk for dementia. This, they claim, may suggest that even for people with a higher genetic risk, adopting a healthier diet may lessen the risk of acquiring the disorder.
The authors suggest that additional study is required to fully understand how nutrition and genetics combine to increase the risk of dementia because this conclusion was not consistent across all analyses.
John Mathers, Professor of Human Nutrition, Newcastle University, said, “The good news from this study is that even for those with higher genetic risk, having a better diet reduced the likelihood of developing dementia.
“Although more research is needed in this area, this strengthens the public health message that we can all help to reduce our risk of dementia by eating a more Mediterranean-like diet.”
The authors point out that because genetic data was only accessible based on European ancestry, their analysis was restricted to people who self-identified as white, British, or Irish, and that additional research in a variety of communities is required to evaluate the potential advantage.
They draw the conclusion that, in light of their data, a Mediterranean diet with a high intake of wholesome plant-based foods would be a crucial intervention to include in future plans to lower the incidence of dementia.
Dr. Janice Ranson, at the University of Exeter, joint lead author on the paper, said, “The findings from this large population-based study underscore the long-term brain health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
“The protective effect of this diet against dementia was evident regardless of a person’s genetic risk, and so this is likely to be a beneficial lifestyle choice for people looking to make healthy dietary choices and reduce their risk of dementia. Future dementia prevention efforts could go beyond generic healthy diet advice and focus on supporting people to increase consumption of specific foods and nutrients that are essential for brain health.”
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