August 04, 2017
2 min read

Mediterranean diet improves cognitive function in older adults

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Adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet was associated with better cognition and brain function and a lower risk for cognitive impairment in older adults, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

“Dementia is a major cause of death and disability in older Americans, and there is considerable interest in identifying lifestyle approaches, such as diet, for prevention of cognitive decline with aging,” Claire T. McEvoy, PhD, from the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues wrote. “The Mediterranean diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fish, has been proven to have vascular and anti-inflammatory benefits and may be neuroprotective,” they added. “Greater adherence to the [Mediterranean diet] is associated with slower rate of cognitive decline and lower risk of cognitive impairment and dementia, but findings are conflicting, largely owing to significant heterogeneity between studies in terms of populations studied and methods used to assess diet and cognition.”

McEvoy and colleagues performed a population-based cross-sectional study to investigate how the Mediterranean diet and the Mediterranean-DASH diet Intervention for Neurodegeneration Delay (MIND diet) affects cognitive function in older adults. They recruited 5,907 community-dwelling older adults (mean age, 67.8) from the Health and Retirement Study. Participants completed food frequency questionnaires about their dietary intake. Adherence to the diets was determined using data from the questionnaires and by calculating diet scores generated with predefined criteria for the Mediterranean diet (range, 0-55) and the MIND diet (range, 0-15). A composite test score of global function (range, 0-27) was used to measure cognitive performance, mainly memory and attention skills. Participants’ diets and performance on the cognitive tests were compared. The researchers adjusted for age, sex, race, educational attainment, and other health and lifestyle covariates.

The adjusted analysis indicated that mid (OR = 0.85; 95% CI, 0.71–1.02) and high (OR = 0.65; 95% CI, 0.52–0.81) Mediterranean diet scores were associated with better cognitive performance. Specifically, there was a 35% lower risk for scoring poorly on cognitive function tests associated with adherence to the Mediterranean diet. Even with moderate adherence to the Mediterranean diet, there was a 15% lower risk of performing poorly on the cognitive tests. Similar results were observed in participants who adhered to the MIND diet. Participants with higher scores in each dietary pattern were more likely to have significantly better cognitive function (P < .001) in a dose-response manner (P < .001) than those who ate a less healthy diet.

“This study shows that greater adherence to [the Mediterranean diet] and MIND diet patterns are associated with better overall cognitive function in older adults and lower odds of cognitive impairment, which could have important public health implications for preservation of cognition during aging,” McEvoy and colleagues concluded. “Given the limited evidence base and lack of clear dietary recommendations for cognitive health, further prospective population-based studies and clinical trials are required to elucidate the role of dietary patterns in cognitive aging and brain health.” – by Alaina Tedesco

Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.