Mediterranean Diet Slows Brain Shrinkage In Seniors, Study Shows

A diet that’s low on meat and high on fruits and vegetables, such as the Mediterranean diet, may be a good choice for people as they grow into old age, a new study suggests.

A report from the Los Angeles Times describes the traditional staples of diets consumed by Mediterranean people — aside from fruits and vegetables, these diets include legumes, nuts, and olive oil, and are traditionally do not include a lot of meat, with fish and red wine consumption kept in moderation. The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthier and safer diets out there, and its benefits, according to a new study, may include slowing down brain shrinkage, particularly in people aged 70-years-old and above.

The researchers looked at the details of 562 Scots, all of them born in 1936, all of whom were measured on several health and lifestyle metrics from their youth up to old age. These individuals were all part of the so-called “Lothian Birth Cohort,” and around the time of their 70th birthdays, 843 of the members filled out dietary questionnaires that offered a broad-based glimpse at the foods they normally consume and avoid, and how often they consume their preferred foods. The subjects then underwent brain scans at 73 or so, and again around their 76th birthday.

Based on the researchers’ findings, those whose diets were similar to the traditional Mediterranean diet had about half the brain shrinkage as compared to the group average over three years. The key word here is similar – the researchers grouped the subjects into two, with one group at least coming close to the Med-diet guidelines, and those who weren’t close at all. But even those who were merely close to adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet had less brain shrinkage than those who didn’t adhere.

When talking about the kind of foods one should eat as part of their Mediterranean diet to avoid brain shrinkage, study author Michelle Luciano believes that it may be a combination of all the required foods, and not necessarily an increase in fish consumption/decrease in meat consumption alone that would do the trick.

“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.”

This, according to Forbes, turned out to be rather surprising, as fish wasn’t associated with brain volume, despite fish and omega-3 fatty acids being associated with a slowing of cognitive brain decline in earlier studies. The key, however, may be vegetable consumption, as Forbes cited multiple studies that mentioned vegetables as the game-changing component, as these foods repair brain cell damage and slow down cognitive decline.

Are vegetables the game-changer in the Mediterranean diet? [Image by sunipix55/Shutterstock]

Overall, the difference in brain shrinkage wasn’t all that large – according to The Conversation UK, this was measured at just 2.5ml, or half a teaspoon, and that’s only a small change in brain volume. But with an additional half teaspoon of brain, the ramifications may not be as insignificant after all.

“Who’s to say what you might achieve with that extra half teaspoon of brain? If these results prove reliable, there is surely an incentive to stock up on family-sized bottles of olive oil.”

The Conversation UK report went into the inner workings of the study, noting that there is clear proof that the Mediterranean diet, or any diet with higher fish and lower meat consumption, is linked to increased brain size. But with causality being “credible in both directions,” meaning between lifestyle changes and brain size, the report stated that it can be difficult to make conclusions on actual associations between the two. But the publication did conclude that the insights gleaned were “important,” as they allowed the researchers to compare brain shrinkage trends over time, and not based on cold, hard numbers.

[Featured Image by Liliya Kandrashevich/Shutterstock]