Eating a traditional Mediterranean-type diet may help reduce the risk of dementia

Eating a traditional Mediterranean-style diet, rich in foods like seafood, fruits and nuts, can help reduce dementia risk by nearly a quarter, a new study has revealed.

Experts at Newcastle University found that people who ate a Mediterranean-like diet had up to a 23% lower risk of dementia than those who didn’t.

This research, published today in BMC Medicineit is one of the largest studies of its kind, as previous studies have generally been limited to small sample sizes and low numbers of dementia cases.

Priority for researchers

The scientists analyzed data from 60,298 people from the UK Biobank, a large cohort including people from across the UK, who completed a dietary assessment.

The authors scored the people based on how closely their diet matched the key characteristics of a Mediterranean one. The participants were followed for nearly a decade, during which time there were 882 cases of dementia.

The authors considered each individual’s genetic risk of dementia when estimating what is known as their polygenic risk, a measure of all the different genes that are linked to dementia risk.

Dr Oliver Shannon, Professor of Human Nutrition and Aging at Newcastle University, led the study with Professor Emma Stevenson and joint lead author Professor David Llewellyn.

The research also involved experts from the Universities of Edinburgh, UEA and Exeter and was part of the NuBrain consortium funded by the Medical Research Council.

Dr Shannon said: “Dementia affects the lives of millions of people around the world, and there are currently limited options to treat this condition.

“Finding ways to reduce our risk of developing dementia is therefore a high priority for researchers and clinicians.

“Our study suggests that eating a more Mediterranean diet could be one strategy to help people reduce dementia risk.”

The authors found that there was no significant interaction between polygenic risk of dementia and associations between adherence to the Mediterranean diet. They say this may indicate that even for those with a higher genetic risk, having a better diet could reduce the likelihood of developing the condition.

This finding was not consistent across all analyses, and the authors propose that further research is needed to assess the interaction between diet and genetics on dementia risk.

The good news from this study is that, even for those with higher genetic risk, having a better diet reduced the likelihood of developing dementia.

Although more research is needed in this area, this strengthens the public health message that we can all help reduce our risk of dementia by following a more Mediterranean diet.”

John Mathers, Professor of Human Nutrition, University of Newcastle

important intervention

The authors caution that their analysis is limited to people who self-reported their ethnicity as White, British, or Irish, since genetic data was only available based on European ancestry, and that more research is needed in a variety of populations to determine the potential benefit.

They conclude that, based on their data, a Mediterranean diet with a high consumption of healthy plant-based foods may be an important intervention to incorporate into future strategies to reduce dementia risk.

Dr Janice Ranson, from the University of Exeter, joint lead author of the paper, said: “The findings from this large population-based study underscore the long-term brain health benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruit , vegetables and , whole grains and healthy fats.

“The protective effect of this diet against dementia was evident regardless of a person’s genetic risk, making it likely a beneficial lifestyle choice for people seeking to choose a healthy diet and reduce dementia risk.

“Future dementia prevention efforts could go beyond generic advice on a healthy diet and focus on helping people increase their intake of specific foods and nutrients that are essential for brain health.”


Magazine reference:

Shannon, O.M. and others. (2023). Adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of dementia, regardless of genetic predisposition: findings from the UK Biobank prospective cohort study. BMC Medicine.

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