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Question

Alzheimer's: Can a Mediterranean diet lower my risk?

Can a Mediterranean diet lower my risk of Alzheimer's?

Updated: 02-07-2012

Answer

You may know that a Mediterranean diet — rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, whole grains and fish — offers heart-healthy benefits. But a Mediterranean diet may also benefit your brain. Studies show that people who closely follow a Mediterranean diet seem less likely to develop cognitive decline when compared with people who don't follow the diet.

Research shows that a Mediterranean diet may:

  • Slow cognitive decline in older adults
  • Reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a transitional stage between the cognitive decline of normal aging and the more-serious memory problems caused by dementia or Alzheimer's disease
  • Reduce the risk of MCI progressing into Alzheimer's disease

It's unclear why following a Mediterranean diet may protect brain function. Researchers speculate that making healthy food choices may improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and overall blood vessel health — all factors that may reduce the risk of MCI or Alzheimer's disease.

Studies of the effects of diet on dementia are dependent on the recall of the participants — problematic when some of those studied have memory troubles. More research is needed to know to what degree a Mediterranean diet prevents Alzheimer's or slows the progression of cognitive decline. Nonetheless, eating a healthy diet is important to stay physically and mentally fit.