Mediterranean Diet May Slow Down Brain Shrinkage in Seniors

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A recent study suggests the Mediterranean diet may slow the pace at which aging brains are shrinking. As we age, our brains become smaller, which contributes to lower performance and sluggish reaction time.

Scientists found that the brain scans of hundreds of seniors who follow a diet very similar to the Mediterranean one reveal less shrinkage. These people routinely consumed lean meat, many fresh fruit and vegetables, peanuts, vegetable oils, fish and red wine in moderation.

Mediterranean Diet May Cut Pace of Brain Shrinkage in Half

The trial involved 562 people in their 70s from Scotland. The research revealed that the ones who stuck to a Mediterranean diet-like meal plan experienced half the brain shrinkage as compared to a control group on a normal, American diet.

Study authors monitored the participants for three years. Researchers used data on the participants from a national survey dubbed “Lothian Birth Cohort”.  About 840 seniors agreed to provide data on their diets at the age 70, 73, and 76.

Study participants unveiled what type of foods they regularly consume, what types of foods they avoid, and how often they consume specific food items or meals. At the age 73 and three years later they underwent brain scanning to assess brain volume.

Researchers found participants fell into two categories: those whose diets were very close to the Mediterranean one and those who followed a completely different type of diet.

Surprisingly, even though the Med-diet cohort wasn’t very strict in following the diet plan the shrinkage of their brains was visibly lower.

Scientists Still Struggle to Find the Diet’s Secrets

Past studies had confirmed the Mediterranean Diet is very healthy for the heart’s and brain’s health. Several studies associated it with lower cholesterol levels, lower risk of high blood pressure and stroke. It likely prevents premature death and type 2 diabetes.

However, despite all the evidence supporting its benefits, researchers do not yet know why exactly it is so healthy. Some scientists speculate that a healthier cardiovascular system promotes brain health in the long run. Other academics think the fatty acids in olive oil or fish and other compounds of the plant-based foods may play a role.

The authors of the latest study adjusted their findings for other factors that may directly influence the research’s outcome. Those factors included IQ, education, and overall health status.

Studies have also shown people who study longer and earn more are more likely to have a healthy brain late into adulthood. And high-income people or highly-educated ones tend to eat healthier. Also, this group tends to be healthier in general than their poorer, less educated peers. So, the diet may not be the only cause for the situation.

The latest study revealed that the lower brain shrinkage is not necessarily tied to a high fish intake and lower red meat intake. So, the other ingredients of a Mediterranean diet such as olive oil, the fruit and vegetables may play a larger part.
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