In the past many years, the Mediterranean diet has come to garner a lot of attention owing to the multitude of benefits it offers for one’s health. In fact, it continues to top the US News and World Report‘s list of best diets in the world — for the fifth consecutive year. However, a new study indicates that the Mediterranean diet, which includes a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, fish, and healthy fats such as olive oil, as well as dairy products, meats, and saturated fatty acids in moderation, may not reduce the risk of cognitive decline in conditions like dementia.
Published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, the study emphasised finding modifiable risk factors for dementia considering the cases are expected to triple during the next 30 years. The study, which followed 28,000 people from Sweden who did not have dementia at the start of the study with an average age of 58 for over a 20-year period, made participants fill out a seven-day food diary, a detailed food frequency questionnaire, and complete an interview.
The analysis suggested that at the end of the study, 1,943 people, or 6.9 per cent, were diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
The study mentioned that researchers examined how closely the participants’ diets aligned with conventional dietary recommendations and the Mediterranean diet. After adjusting the basic demographics like age, gender, and education, the study “did not find a link between following either a conventional diet or the Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of dementia”.
While further research in the area is needed, Nils Peters, MD, of the University of Basel in Switzerland, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study that the diet, on its own, may not have a strong enough effect on memory and thinking, but is likely one factor among others that influence the course of cognitive function. “Dietary strategies will still potentially be needed along with other measures to control risk factors,” he wrote.
For the unversed, Mediterranean diet is rich in healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds; antioxidants from fruits and vegetables such as berries, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes; fibre from whole grains such as whole wheat, millets, oats, lentils and legumes which may help support and protect brain health, Dr Eileen Candy, dietician, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital told indianexpress.com. “The high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory content of this diet provides overall protection effect against oxidative damage to blood vessels,” added Dr Candy.
Even the Word Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised it as a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern. Numerous studies indicate that the Mediterranean diet can help lose weight, prevent heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and premature death. The diet pattern, which originated in the 1960s, is known to have helped people in the Mediterranean countries by aiding against coronary heart disease as compared to the US and other parts of Europe.
Experts told this outlet that even if there is no direct relationship, a good diet always supersedes a bad, unhealthy one.
Poor nutritional intake and lack of fluids can contribute to the development and severity of delirium – sometimes referred to as ‘acute confusional state’. Delirium often occurs when a person is unwell, and can lead to a rapid decline in mental state and behaviour, said Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, chief clinical dietician, Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore while emphasising that many foods such as processed meats, refined grains, sweets and desserts, excessive alcohol intake, and saturated fatty acids are risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“Natural and healthy eating helps to maintain better mental health and reduces the intensity of risk, so the Mediterranean diet is a good choice,” noted Dr Rohatgi.
Agreed Neha Patodia, co-founder and consultant nutritionist at Nutrimend, and said that “Given the lack of effective pharmaceutical treatment for common types of dementia, research interest in lifestyle modifications that could prevent, postpone or decelerate progression of dementia is growing.”
“A lot of studies have been conducted on the possible link between Mediterranean diet and reduced risk of dementia. The Mediterranean diet is associated with lowered risk of many diseases and a longer life span. This diet rose to popularity because of its approach being sustainable and long term,” Patodia told indianexpress.com while stressing for the need for long-term randomised controlled trials are required to establish whether adherence to Mediterranean diet can prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.