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Food-brain study shows benefits for Med diet

By Stephen Daniells , 13-Apr-2010

Consuming a Mediterranean-style diet may improve brain health and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, says a new study from New York.

Scientists from Columbia University report that a diet rich in salad dressing, tomatoes, nuts, fish, cruciferous vegetables, dark and green leafy vegetables, fruits, and poultry may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by about 40 per cent.

“Our findings provide support for further exploration of food combination-based dietary behaviour for the prevention of this important public health problem,” write the researchers in the Archives of Neurology.

Health and wellness

The Mediterranean diet is rich in cereals, fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and olive oil. Although is the traditional diet of the Mediterranean region, it has garnered interest all over the world in recent times as a scientific spotlight has been trained on the health benefits it can confer.

For instance, recent research has indicated that the diet may have benefits for arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, hearth health and blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, lung disease, and allergies.

Thanks to this global reputation the food industry has adopted some of its principals to assist in marketing of healthy foods.

The new study taps into the booming health and wellness trend in the food industry. Such is the interest in dietary approaches to improve brain health the world's largest food company, Nestlé, recently signalled its intention to get a head start on the competition with the signing of an agreement in November 2006 with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) to investigate the role of nutrition in cognitive function.

Study details

Dr Yian Gu and New York-based colleagues analysed data from 2,148 adults over the age of 65 who did not have dementia at the start of the study. Information about diets was assessed every 18 months for an average of four years. During this time 253 people developed Alzheimer's disease.

At the end of the study, consuming a Mediterranean-style diet was associated with a 38 per cent reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Looking at the specific nutrients, the Big Apple-based researchers noted the dietary pattern was rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E and folate, but low in saturated fats and vitamin B12.

Commenting on their potential mechanisms, the researchers noted: “For example, vitamin B12 and folate are homocysteine-related vitamins that may have an impact on Alzheimer's disease via their ability of reducing circulating homocysteine levels, vitamin E might prevent Alzheimer's disease via its strong antioxidant effect and fatty acids may be related to dementia and cognitive function through atherosclerosis, thrombosis or inflammation via an effect on brain development and membrane functioning or via accumulation of beta-amyloid.”

The build-up of plaque from beta-amyloid deposits is associated with an increase in brain cell damage and death from oxidative stress. This is related to a loss of cognitive function and an increased risk of Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia and currently affects over 13 million people worldwide.

The direct and indirect cost of Alzheimer care is over $100 bn (€81 bn) in the US, while direct costs in the UK are estimated at £15 bn (€22 bn).

Source: Archives of Neurology
2010, Vol. 67, Pages 6, doi:10.1001/archneurol.2010.84
“Food Combination and Alzheimer Disease Risk - A Protective Diet”
Authors: Y. Gu, J.W. Nieves, Y. Stern, J.A. Luchsinger, N. Scarmeas

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