In a groundbreaking 12-year scientific study, Spanish researchers have affirmed that individuals aged 65 and above who adhere to the Mediterranean diet experience a reduced risk of cognitive decline. As the battle against Alzheimer's intensifies, the mysteries surrounding the disease persist, making it crucial to explore lifestyle factors that shield the brain from neurodegenerative disorders.
Published in the scientific journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, the research, led by Mireia Urpí-Sardá from the University of Barcelona's Biomarkers and Nutritional & Food Metabolomics Group, sheds light on the positive impact of the Mediterranean diet on cognitive health in the ageing population. Notably, the study involved 840 participants over 65 years from Bordeaux and Dijon in France.
The study introduces a dietary metabolomic index based on biomarkers derived from the serum of participants, reflecting the Mediterranean diet's food groups. By evaluating the index's association with cognitive deterioration, the researchers uncovered a protective link between a higher Mediterranean diet score and a reduced risk of cognitive decline in older individuals.
Cristina Andrés-Lacueva, professor at the University of Barcelona and head of the Ciberfes group, explains that the study utilised biomarkers such as fatty acids, polyphenol metabolites, and phytochemicals to gauge participants' exposure to the Mediterranean diet. Cognitive impairment was assessed over twelve years using five neuropsychological tests, demonstrating a compelling connection between diet and cognitive health in the elderly.
According to Mercè Pallàs from the Institute of Neurosciences at the University of Barcelona, using dietary pattern indices based on biomarkers represents a significant advancement in precise and objective dietary evaluation methodologies, considering factors such as individual bioavailability.
Alba Tor-Roca, the first author of the study and Ciberfes researcher, notes that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is inversely associated with long-term cognitive deterioration in older individuals.
These findings not only provide crucial insights into the relationship between diet and cognitive health but also support the use of biomarker-based indicators in long-term follow-up evaluations. Additionally, previous studies have shown that individuals with higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet exhibited brain characteristics equivalent to those 18 years younger.
The study benefited from collaboration with esteemed institutions, including the University of Bordeaux, the INRAE centre at the University of Clermont-Ferrand (France), King's College London (United Kingdom), the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands), and Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg (Austria). Financial support for the research was secured through various channels, including the International Joint Programming Actions PCIN-2015-229, the European Regional Development Funds (ERDF), and the former Ministry of Economy, Industry, and Competitiveness (MINECO), as part of the Joint Programming Initiative titled "A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life."
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a nutritional approach inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Spain, Greece, and Italy.
It is renowned for its emphasis on whole, nutrient-dense foods and has gained global recognition for its potential health benefits.
At its core, the Mediterranean diet places a substantial focus on plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Olive oil, a key component, serves as the primary source of fat and is rich in monounsaturated fats, believed to contribute to heart health.
While limited quantities of meat, dairy, and sweets are permissible, the emphasis is on moderation. The diet recommends a minimum intake of fish at least twice a week, with a preference for varieties rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These include mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon and anchovies.
Meat consumption is advised sparingly, ideally a few times a month and in modest portions, while desserts, including soft drinks, should be enjoyed only occasionally. Opting for artisanal versions and minimising processed options is recommended.
Encouraging a diverse daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the Mediterranean diet promotes the consumption of memory-boosting options like grapes and blueberries. Additionally, it advocates for a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, figs, olives, spinach, eggplant, along with legumes like beans, lentils, and chickpeas. The inclusion of whole grains like brown rice, pasta, and couscous is also recommended. While fat consumption is permitted, the focus is on healthy sources such as nuts and olive oil. This dietary approach reflects a holistic and balanced perspective, promoting overall well-being through a mindful selection of wholesome and nourishing foods.
The Mediterranean diet is not just a list of prescribed foods but also embodies a holistic lifestyle approach. Meals are often shared with family and friends, fostering a sense of community. Additionally, the diet is characterised by mindful eating habits, such as savouring meals and paying attention to hunger and fullness cues. Research has suggested that as well as being good for cognitive health, adhering to the Mediterranean diet may offer other health benefits, including reduced risks of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cognitive decline. Its popularity extends beyond its nutritional merits, encompassing a cultural and social dimension that celebrates the joys of fresh, seasonal ingredients and the pleasures of shared meals.