Eating a Mediterranean diet could reduce your risk of dementia and lead to a longer life. Here’s how to get started

Fortune June 26, 2023

Lifestyle

Eating a Mediterranean diet could reduce your risk of dementia and lead to a longer life. Here’s how to get started
Key takeaways
  • Adhering to a Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of developing dementia by 23%.
  • A Mediterranean diet is rich in seafood,  fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
  • Dementia impacts 55 million people around the world.

There are many benefits to abiding by a Mediterranean diet, but new research suggests that doing so could reduce the risk of developing dementia by nearly a quarter. According to the study, which was published in BMC Medicine on Monday, participants who ate a traditional Mediterranean-type diet—rich in seafood, fruit, and nuts—had up to a 23% lower risk for dementia than those who did not.

Currently, dementia impacts 55 million people globally; however, there are currently limited options for treating the disease. “Finding ways to reduce our risk of developing dementia is, therefore, a major priority for researchers and clinicians,” says Dr. Oliver Shannon, lead author on the study and a lecturer in human nutrition and aging at Newcastle University in England, in a press release about the study. “Our study suggests that eating a more Mediterranean-like diet could be one strategy to help individuals lower their risk of dementia.”

Researchers analyzed data from more than 60,000 people from the large-scale U.K. Biobank study for nearly a decade. Individuals were then scored based on how closely their diet matched key components of a Mediterranean one. During that time, there were 882 cases of dementia.

Each person’s genetic risk for dementia was estimated using polygenic risk, which measures your risk of contracting common chronic diseases due to your genes. Researchers found that there was “no significant interaction between the polygenic risk for dementia and the associations between Mediterranean diet adherence,” according to the press release. This means that even if someone has a higher genetic risk of dementia, a healthier diet could reduce the likelihood of the disease developing.

“The good news from this study is that, even for those with higher genetic risk, having a better diet reduced the likelihood of developing dementia,” says John Mathers, professor of human nutrition at Newcastle University. “Although more research is needed in this area, this strengthens the public health message that we can all help to reduce our risk of dementia by eating a more Mediterranean-like diet.”

Further research is needed to determine how diet and genetics impact dementia risk. The study authors also warned that their research was limited to participants who self-identified as white, British or Irish, and additional research is needed across populations to determine the possible benefit of adhering to a Mediterranean diet.

Experts believe that the findings from this study “underscore the long-term brain health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats,” says Dr. Janice Ranson of University of Exeter, joint lead author for the study. Additional benefits of following a Mediterranean diet include a lower risk of heart attack and stroke; lower risk of type 2 diabetes; and living a longer life.

“The protective effect of this diet against dementia was evident regardless of a person’s genetic risk, and so this is likely to be a beneficial lifestyle choice for people looking to make healthy dietary choices and reduce their risk of dementia,” she says. “Future dementia prevention efforts could go beyond generic healthy diet advice and focus on supporting people to increase consumption of specific foods and nutrients that are essential for brain health.”


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