Mediterranean diet may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s

The so called ‘Mediterranean diet,’ rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, olive oil and fish and small amounts of red meat and dairy products, may cut risk for Alzheimer’s by as much as 68 per cent.

Based on the 1950s claim that diet was behind the long life expectancy of southern Europeans, the Mediterranean diet has long been thought to help protect against a variety of diseases including cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. And now a new US study has found the people who follow the Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

In a study published in the Archives of Neurology, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Nikolaos Scarmeas and his research team at Columbia University Medical Center in New York studied roughly 2,000 adults with an average age of 76, including 194 who had Alzheimer’s disease.

“We have confirmed the association of a Mediterranean diet with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Scarmeas, an assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University.

When the researchers examined what the subjects ate in the previous ear, they found that the closer their eating habits came to the principles of the Mediterranean diet, the lower their likelihood of having Alzheimer’s.

Researchers took into account other factors that could affect the risk of developing the degenerative brain disease, such as age and weight. And even after doing so, they found that those whose food choices more closely resembled a Mediterranean diet were 40 to 68 per cent less likely to have Alzheimer’s than those whose diets were least like it.

While it had been thought that the protective benefits of the diet came primarily from protecting blood vessels, researchers said their study indicated that is not the case, suggesting that the diet may instead produce its benefits in other ways, such as reducing brain inflammation and the amount of oxidation in the body.

An estimated 435,000 Canadians over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada. Currently, there are more than 24.3 million people in the world with dementia, and this is estimated to rise to 42.3 million by the year 2020.

What is the ‘Mediterranean diet’?
Over a dozen countries border the Mediterranean Sea, making it difficult to designate one ‘Mediterranean diet.’ Diets vary between countries and regions and often reflect differences in culture, ethnic background, religion, economy and agricultural production. But the common Mediterranean dietary pattern follows these principles*:

• a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds
• olive oil is an important monounsaturated fat source
• dairy products, fish and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts
• little red meat is eaten
• eggs are consumed zero to four times a week
• wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts
(*Source: American Heart Association)

The health benefits of olive oil
In the traditional Mediterranean diet as much as 40 per cent of total daily calories come from fat, yet the risk of cardiovascular disease is significantly decreased. As a monosaturated fatty acid, olive oil does not raise cholesterol in the same way as saturated fats. Olive oil, which was first mentioned by Hippocrates, is also a rich source of antioxidants which help to prevent artery clogging and chronic disease such as cancer.

For centuries, olive oil has been used by the people of the Mediterranean to enhance both health and beauty. It was used to maintain skin and muscle suppleness, heal abrasions, and soothe the burning and drying effects of sun and water.

The health benefits of fish
Eating fish several times a week increases the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids which is thought to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and overall death.

A recent Swedish study reported that while Omega-3 fatty acid food supplements may slow mental decline in some patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease, the supplements do not appear to affect those with more advanced cases.

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