Following a Mediterranean Diet in old age, even in the short term, helps to preserve cognitive performance and your own executive functions such as attention, processing speed or cognitive flexibility. This is the main conclusion of a prospective study by CIBERobn and the Rovira i Virgili-IISPV University, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, which assesses cognitive health and dietary intake in 6,647 participants of the PREDIMED-Plus project.
As reported by the CIBERobn, cognitive decline is a serious public health concern, especially as the population ages. Specifically, cognitive health is defined as the ability to think, learn and remember clearly, being an important component to correctly perform daily activities and maintain quality of life.
The elderly and others who experience cognitive decline may be unable to care for themselves or perform everyday activities such as preparing meals, managing money, doing housework, etc. In his view, since there is currently no effective treatment for cognitive impairment, prevention through lifestyle changes, such as dietary intake, have been proposed as promising approaches to promote proper cognitive functioning. In addition, because individuals do not eat individual nutrients or a single type of food, evaluation of dietary patterns allows one to assess possible food interactions within complete dietary approaches under real-world conditions. However, to date,
For this, a prospective study was carried out in which cognitive health and dietary intake were evaluated in 6,647 participants of the PREDIMED-Plus study.
The researchers examined the impact of three dietary patterns, including the Mediterranean diets, DASH and MIND, on changes in cognitive performance at two years in overweight or obese Spanish elderly at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
The Mediterranean Diet is characterized by the use of extra virgin olive oil as the main source of fat; a high consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains or nuts rich in antioxidant components, as well as low or moderate amounts of foods of animal origin: dairy, red meat and highly processed or sugar-rich foods.
The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and was designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). This dietary pattern is rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Include fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, legumes, and nuts, and limit foods high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats and whole dairy products.
For its part, the MIND diet is based on a combination of Mediterranean dietary patterns and DASH and is the acronym for Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative retardation. This diet emphasizes foods that are believed to support brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, and berries.
Specifically, a battery of eight standardized neuropsychological tests, as well as a general assessment of global cognitive health, was carried out to assess cognitive function. The diet was evaluated with a questionnaire in which the participants were asked about their food intake during the previous year.
The results showed that the participants who were in the upper tertile in terms of adherence to the Mediterranean Diet obtained higher scores on tests related to general and executive cognitive function over a period of two years. Other analyzes suggested that the cognitive benefits were related to eating foods high in healthy fats, such as olive oil. Adherence to the MIND diet was also positively associated with cognitive health, but this beneficial observation was only seen in one trial in relation to working memory. In contrast, greater adherence to the DASH diet was not associated with better cognitive function in the present population.
Therefore, even in the short term, following a Mediterranean Diet can benefit cognitive function in old age.
This article supports the use of the Mediterranean Diet for health and the need for further research in the future on the impact that diet can have in order to better inform the guidelines to follow to maintain optimal cognitive health.
The work has been carried out by Stephanie K. Nishi, postdoctoral fellow of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and visiting professor of the Human Nutrition Unit of the Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology of the Rovira i Virgili University (URV) in collaboration with Jordi Salas-Salvadó and Nancy Babio, both researchers from the CIBERobn and the Pere Virgili Institute for Health Research (IISPV-CERCA). This work has been carried out in collaboration with researchers from the PREDIMED-Plus consortium.