The Mediterranean Diet and Brain Health

The Mediterranean Diet and Brain Health

There is a study that discovered the benefit of the Mediterranean diet to brain health. People who ate Mediterranean-style foods seem to have reduced injury to the brain’s small blood vessels.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The American Heart Association states that the Mediterranean diet recommends eating plant-based foods including fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, legumes and olive oil instead of butter. As much as possible, red meat is only eaten a few times monthly. Fish and poultry dishes are served in moderation. If taking red wine, it must also be in moderation.

How the Mediterranean Diet Protects the Brain

The Methodology

For the research study, a thousand people were first asked to complete a questionnaire that inquires how closely the respondents ate foods that are included in a Mediterranean diet. Then the researchers monitored the brain health of the respondents.

After analysis of the survey, the data showed that 27 percent of the respondents scored 0-3 (with 10 being the highest score), which means that they were not able to keep the Mediterranean type of diet. Then, another 26 percent of the respondents scored 6 to 9.

To measure brain health, the respondents got their brain MRI scans. The MRI scans show the volume of “white matter hyperintensity,” which indicates how much of the small vessels in the brain are damaged.

The Results

The results of the brain scans showed that the individuals who have high Mediterranean diet scores had lower white matter hyperintensity volume. This result already reflects the fact that the researchers have taken out of the equation individual risk factors, such as smoking, blood cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

Hannah Gardner from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the leader of this research study, stated that an increased consumption of Mediterranean diet foods appear to have a protective effect on the brain’s small vessels.

Overall Diet Versus Monounsaturated Fats

Another expert stated that a healthy diet is indeed essential for brain health as indicated in this study.
Dr. Keith Siller, a professor of Neurology and Psychiatry said that the brain MRI scans prove that the Mediterranean diet can somehow help in the treatment of cerebrovascular disease.

This benefit is in addition to the other assumed beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet – lower glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. However, the consumption of monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, instead of saturated fats is the emphasized element of the Mediterranean diet.

Hannah Gardner also stated that she believes that the monounsaturated fat to saturated fat ratio is the independent marker of the Mediterranean diet that is associated with the brain-vessel damage.

But, after analysis, her team agreed that the overall diet and not specific nutrients had a greater effect on the brain.

The Need for Lifestyle Change

Lifestyle is important to brain health. There is power when lifestyle changes, such as adopting the Mediterranean diet, are employed for disease prevention.

Many research studies in the past have associated the Mediterranean diet to lower risk of coronary heart disease, metabolic syndrome, stroke and memory disorders.

Photo credits: Brain health by amenclinicphotos ac via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Categories: Health, Nutrition

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