Can a Mediterranean diet actually prevent brain “shrinkage?” According to a new study from Columbia University in New York, it can. A diet filled with veggies, fruit, fish and olive oils, in addition to being generally healthy to our bodies, was found to prevent the decrease of brain nerve cells and brain fibers in the elderly.
Writes CBS News on Oct. 21: “People who ate a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, and olive oil, along with small to moderate amounts of alcohol, and who consumed less meat and dairy, had less brain shrinkage than people who did not follow a Mediterranean eating style, according to a study published today in the journal Neurology.”
The study also revealed that those who followed the Mediterranean diet had a “larger brain volume” than those who had a more American-style diet.
The study involved 674 individuals with an average age of 80. They were asked to follow a strict Mediterranean diet, keeping away from large consumptions of saturated fats, dairy, red meats and poultry. The quantified study results showed that the differences, in terms of brain aging, were approximately five years.
Dr. Gayatri Devi, an attending neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said, “The freshest thing here in this study shows that people on a Mediterranean diet, their brains actually shrunk less than people not on Mediterranean diet. And the shrinkage translated to an advantage of five years of brain aging.”
Lead scientist Dr Yian Gu commented: “These results are exciting, as they raise the possibility that people may potentially prevent brain shrinking and the effects of ageing on the brain simply by following a healthy diet.”
The head of research at the UK-based Alzheimer’s Society, Dr. James Pickett, cautiously agreed, saying: “There is an increasing amount of evidence that eating a healthy diet, rich in fish, vegetables, legumes and nuts is good for your brain.”
That said, Dr. Pickett said the study stops short of proving that adhering to this one type of diet can be a cure-all for brain shrinkage – or cerebral atrophy – the most severe type being found in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
“This study delves further into the potential benefits that diet could have, but it does not prove that a Mediterranean-style diet can stop your brain from shrinking as you age,” he said. “Other key ways to keep your brain healthy is to take as much physical exercise as you can, stop smoking and keep your blood pressure in check.”
The study also does not separate the underlying link between the diet and the impact it had. For example, is the increase in fish the reason for the encouraging results, or was it the related decrease in other proteins?
“Someone who eats a lot of fish probably doesn’t eat a lot of meat,” said Dr. Victor Henderson, a neurology and health policy researcher at Stanford University in California in an email to Reuters news. “Other research suggests that it is not just fish and meat that are important.”