Brain and Body

Eating a Mediterranean Diet Improves Memory, Meta-Analysis Finds

August 9, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Greek salad
Photo credit: Susan Lucas Hoffman/flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

And slows rates of cognitive decline, reducing the risks of Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

It’s been long-known that eating a Mediterranean diet — consisting largely of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds, olive oil, and fish — is good for the heart, and can reduce the risk of certain cancers, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

However, the benefits of a Mediterranean diet extend to the brain as well, with a new meta-analysis of 18 articles adding to the evidence that a Mediterranean diet can not only slow cognitive decline, but actually improve cognitive function.

Lead author Roy Hardman and his colleagues combed through all of the available papers on how a MedDiet affects cognitive processes over time. Only 18 of the 135 articles met their strict inclusion criteria, they say.

"The most surprising result was that the positive effects were found in countries around the whole world,” Hardman, from the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at the Swinburne University of Technology, said in a press release. “So regardless of being located outside of what is considered the Mediterranean region, the positive cognitive effects of a higher adherence to a MedDiet were similar in all evaluated papers.”

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According to the findings, which appear in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, attention, language, and memory improved among those who ate a MedDiet — memory in particular. Specifically, the researchers noted improvements in long-term and working memory, executive function, and visual constructs.

“The MedDiet offers the opportunity to change some of the modifiable risk factors [of cognitive decline]," says Hardman.

"These include reducing inflammatory responses, increasing micronutrients, improving vitamin and mineral imbalances, changing lipid profiles by using olive oils as the main source of dietary fats, maintaining weight and potentially reducing obesity, improving polyphenols in the blood, improving cellular energy metabolism and maybe changing the gut micro-biota, although this has not been examined to a larger extent yet.”

Excitingly, the researchers found that these cognitive benefits from a MedDiet were not exclusive to the older population. Two of the 18 studies focused on younger adults, finding improvements in cognition through computerized assessments.

The researchers stress that a MedDiet could be an “essential tool to maintain quality of life” and reduce the potential risks associated with cognitive declines like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

"I would therefore recommend people to try to adhere or switch to a MedDiet, even at an older age," Hardman advises.

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