It has long been considered that the Mediterranean diet is healthy, but a new study has found it is particularly beneficial for older people. The research, which was carried out at the University of Edinburgh, shows that pensioners eating in this way experienced half the level of brain shrinkage of others the same age.
This is particularly important as brain shrinkage is associated with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. Such conditions are becoming more prevalent in Britain and a significant issue for an ageing population.
Eating more fruit and vegetables and olive oil, as well as indulging in a glass of wine, could, therefore, be key to staving off memory problems. It is believed that the benefits stem from the natural antioxidants present in these foods, as they protect the brain from oxidation, which is a cause of neural degeneration.
Dr Michelle Luciano, lead author of the research, said: “As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory. This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.”
In the past, it has been shown that a Mediterranean diet low on meat and dairy can help guard against dementia, as well as cutting the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Eating in this way has also been found to help prevent death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Nearly 1,000 people aged 70 and living in Scotland were involved in the latest study, which was published in the journal Neurology. This age group is expected to lose around 18 ml of brain volume across the three years between 73 and 76. As much as two per cent of the brain can be lost each year as people age.
Using MRI brain scans, it was found that those who mainly stuck to a Mediterranean diet experienced less than half these levels of shrinkage. Loss of brain volume not only affects memory, but can also slow down speech and lower attention span.
Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific research officer at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “The brain, just like other parts of the body, can be affected by the way we live our lives. This study adds to previous research highlighting the importance of this kind of well-balanced diet in maintaining a healthy brain as we age.”
The next step in terms of research is to find out which parts of the brain are protected, but the main takeaway is that a Mediterranean diet represents an achievable and positive step towards fighting Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Chefs in Barchester care homes cook up healthy and delicious meals for our residents.