Eating a Mediterranean diet has been linked to less brain shrinkage in older adults.
Human brains naturally shrink with age, however a study that followed 401 people in their 70s found that the brains of those who opted closely for a Mediterranean-style diet shrank significantly less over a period of three years.
A typical Mediterranean/ Greek diet contains high amounts of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, beans and cereal grains, moderate amounts of fish, dairy products, and wine, and only a small amount of red meat and poultry.
The benefits are believed to come from the antioxidants found in vegetables, olive oil and even the glass of red every day which forms part of the Mediterranean diet. These are thought to reduce damage in the brain from oxidation, which leads to neural degeneration.
Previous studies have found a Mediterranean diet, which is also low in meat and dairy, may protect against dementia. The diet has also been found to cut the risk of Parkinson's disease and dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
“As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells, which can affect learning and memory,” says Michelle Luciano, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who led the study. “This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.”
The differences in brain shrinkage were measured using brain scans. Statistical analysis of diet data found that simply eating more fish and less meat were not associated with reduced shrinking.
“While the study points to diet having a small effect on changes in brain size, it didn’t look at the effect on risk of dementia,” says David Reynolds, at the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK. “We would need to see follow-up studies in order to investigate any potential protective effects against problems with memory and thinking.”