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Mediterranean Diet May Help Prevent Alzheimer's Disease, Boost Brain Health

Update Date: Jan 10, 2017 08:00 AM EST

A growing body of knowledge is linking diet to memory loss, especially among older adults. A new study has found that seniors who do not follow a Mediterranean diet are more likely to suffer from a higher loss of total brain volume over time.

In the study published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, researchers found that older people who followed a Mediterranean diet retained more brain volume over a three-year period than those who did not follow it.

The Mediterranean diet consists of mostly fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans and cereal grains like rice and wheat. It also includes moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine, and limited red meat and poultry.

"As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory," Michelle Luciano, lead author at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said in a press release by the American Academy of Neurology.

"This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health," she added.

To land to their findings, the researchers gathered information on the eating habits of more than 960 Scottish people around 70 years old and have no dementia. Out of the participants, 562 underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan at around 73 years old to measure overall brain volume, gray matter volume and thickness of the cortex.

Of the group, 401 returned for a repeat MRI at 76 years old and the measurements were compared to how the participants followed the Mediterranean diet. The researchers also found that the results were the same when they adjusted for other factors that could affect brain volumes like education, age and having underlying diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Moreover, they found that eating fish and meat were not related to brain changes, which is contrary to studies in the past.

"It's possible that other components of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for this relationship, or that it's due to all of the components in combination," Luciano said.

The results of the study emphasize the positive impact of the diet on brain health, stressing that those who religiously follow it has a healthier brain compared to those who just occasionally eat the foods included in the diet.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says the Mediterranean diet is widely considered a healthy dietary pattern, EurActive reports. It is also considered a sustainable diet considering its low impact on the environment.

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