The Mediterranean Diet is often touted as the key to a healthy cardiovascular system. Now a study finds it may also keep our brains working smoothly as we age.
The study of older adults in Spain suggested that supplementing the plant-based Mediterranean diet with antioxidant-rich extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts was associated with improved cognitive function.
The results of the randomized clinical trial are being published today in JAMA Internal Medicine. The trial included 447 cognitively healthy volunteers (223 were women; average age was nearly 67 years) who were at high cardiovascular risk and were enrolled in a nutrition intervention.
Of the participants, 155 individuals were assigned to supplement a Mediterranean diet with one liter of extra virgin olive oil per week; 147 were assigned to supplement a Mediterranean diet with 30 grams per day of a mix of walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds; and 145 individuals were assigned to follow a low-fat control diet.
The authors measured cognitive change over time with a battery of neuropsychological tests. After a median of four years of the intervention, follow-up tests were available on 334 participants.
At the end of the follow-up, there were 37 cases of mild cognitive impairment: 17 (13.4%) in the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil group; eight (7.1%) in the Mediterranean diet plus nuts group; and 12 (12.6%) in the low-fat control group.
“Our results suggest that in an older population a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts may counteract age-related cognitive decline. The lack of effective treatments for cognitive decline and dementia points to the need of preventive strategies to delay the onset and/or minimize the effects of these devastating conditions. The present results with the Mediterranean diet are encouraging but further investigation is warranted,” the study concludes.