According to a new study, a traditional Mediterranean-style diet – rich in foods such as seafood, fruits and nuts – can help reduce the risk of dementia by almost a quarter.
Newcastle University experts have found that people who follow a Mediterranean-style diet have up to 23% lower risk of dementia than those who don’t.
This research, published March 14, 2023, in the journal BMC Medicineis one of the largest studies of its kind, as previous studies have typically been limited to small sample sizes and low numbers of dementia cases.
Priority to researchers
The scientists analyzed data from 60,298 people from the UK Biobank, a large cohort including people from across the UK, who had completed a dietary assessment.
The authors scored individuals based on how close their diets were to key features of a Mediterranean diet. The participants were followed for nearly a decade, during which there were 882 cases of dementia.
The authors considered each individual’s genetic risk for dementia by estimating what is called their polygenic risk – a measure of all the different genes that are linked to dementia risk.
Dr Oliver Shannon, Lecturer in Human Nutrition and Aging at Newcastle University, led the study with Professor Emma Stevenson and co-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 impacts the lives of millions of people around the world, and there are currently limited options for treating this disease.
“Finding ways to reduce our risk of developing dementia is therefore a top priority for researchers and clinicians.
“Our study suggests that a more Mediterranean diet may be a strategy to help individuals reduce their risk of dementia.”
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 people at higher genetic risk, better diets could reduce the likelihood of developing the disease.
This finding was not consistent across all analyses, and the authors suggest that further research is needed to assess the interaction between diet and genetics on dementia risk.
John Mathers, Professor of Human Nutrition at Newcastle University, said: “The good news from this study is that, even for people at higher genetic risk, better diets reduce the risk of developing dementia.
“While more research is needed in this area, it reinforces the public health message that we can all help reduce our risk of dementia by eating a more Mediterranean diet.”
The authors caution that their analysis is limited to people who reported their ethnicity as White, British or Irish, as genetic data was only available on the basis of European ancestry, and further research is needed in a range of populations to determine potential benefit.
They conclude that, based on their data, a Mediterranean diet rich in healthy plant-based foods may be an important intervention to incorporate into future dementia risk reduction strategies.
Dr Janice Ranson, Principal Investigator at the University of Exeter and co-lead author of the paper, said: “The results of this large population-based study underscore the long-term brain health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.
“The protective effect of this diet against dementia was evident regardless of a person’s genetic risk, and so it is likely to be a beneficial lifestyle choice for people looking to make healthy food choices. and reduce their risk of dementia.
“Future dementia prevention efforts could go beyond generic advice on healthy eating and focus on supporting people to increase their intake of specific foods and nutrients that are essential for the health of the brain.”
Reference: “Adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of dementia, independent of genetic predisposition: results from the UK Biobank prospective cohort study” by Oliver M. Shannon, Janice M. Ranson, Sarah Gregory, Helen Macpherson, Catherine Milte, Marleen Lentjes, Angela Mulligan, Claire McEvoy, Alex Griffiths, Jamie Matu, Tom R. Hill, Ashley Adamson, Mario Siervo, Anne Marie Minihane, Graciela Muniz-Tererra, Craig Ritchie, John C. Mathers , David J. Llewellyn and Emma Stevenson, March 14, 2023, BMC Medicine.