Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
The Mayo Clinic has called the Mediterranean diet a heart-healthy eating plan as it combines elements of Mediterranean-style cooking with a splash of flavorful olive oil. The diet has also has been credited with lowering cholesterol in men, even among those who don´t lose weight.
Now researchers have again shown that the Mediterranean diet with added extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts could improve the brain power of older people. Researchers at the University of Navarra in Spain reported that the Mediterranean diet could provide even more mental health benefits than a low-fat diet. The researchers´ findings were recently published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
While past research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, and lowers the risk of overall cardiovascular mortality as well as a reduced incidence of stroke and cancer, research has shown that it has also reduced the incidence of Parkinson´s and Alzheimer´s diseases.
The Spanish researchers´ study included 522 men and women aged 55 to 80 without cardiovascular disease but at high vascular risk because of underlying conditions. These participants were also taking part in the Predimed trial as a way to ward off cardiovascular disease and were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet with added olive oil or mixed nuts, while a control group received advice to follow the standard low-fat diet typically recommended to prevent heart attack and stroke.
By comparison to the low-fat diet, the Mediterranean diet is characterized by its use of virgin olive oil as the main culinary fat. It also includes a high consumption of fruits, nuts, vegetables and legumes, as well as moderate to high consumption of fish and seafood. This diet typically consists of low consumption of dairy products and red meat, but includes the moderate intake of red wine.
Throughout the study, participants were given regular check-ups with their family doctor and quarterly checks for compliance with their prescribed diet. After an average of 6.5 years, the participants were then tested for signs of cognitive decline using a Mini Mental State Exam and a clock drawing test. These tests are used to assess higher brain functions, including orientation, memory, language, visuospatial and visuoconstrution abilities, and executive functions such as working memory, attention span and abstract thinking.
At the study´s conclusion, 60 of the participants had developed mild cognitive impairment. This included 8 who were on the olive oil supplemented Mediterranean diet, 19 on the diet with added mixed nuts, and 23 in the control group. Additionally, a further 35 people developed dementia, 12 whom were on the added olive oil diet, six on the added nut diet, and 17 on the low-fat diet. The study found that those on either of the Mediterranean diets scored higher than those on the low fat diet.
Additionally, the findings held true irrespective of other factors, including age, family history of cognitive impairment or dementia, or the presence of ApoE protein which is associated with Alzheimer´s disease. The findings also noted educational attainment, exercise levels and vascular risk factors, as well as energy intake and depression.
While the authors did acknowledge that because their sample size was relatively small and the study involved a group at high vascular risk, it does not necessarily imply that these findings are applicable to the general population.