A Mediterranean diet heavy on nuts and olive oil could help older adults improve their memories, according to a new study. However, its results aren’t definitive, and more research will be needed, but its findings are promising for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Mediterranean diets are low in animal foods, such as meat and butter, and high in vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Eating this way has been found to have several benefits. For example, two spoonfuls of hummus a day will fulfill a person’s recommended amount of beans for the week. Additionally, a Mediterranean diet has also been found to reduce the risks of developing heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and — most importantly — Alzheimer’s disease.
In the United States, there are about 5.3 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease, about 5.1 million of whom are over the age of 65, according to data from the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease is so prevalent, in fact, that there’s a new case of Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. every 67 seconds. A 2014 report from the Alzheimer’s Association reveals that in New York State, Alzheimer’s disease has a mortality rate of about 16.7 fatalities for every 100,000 patients. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
In order to discover a better way to fight memory less and improve cognitive functions, Dr. Emilo Ros of the lipid clinic, endocrinology and nutrition service at Hospital Clinic, Barcelona, and his colleagues set out to establish a stronger link between the Mediterranean diet and improved mental functions.
For the study, which was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, the researchers randomly assigned 447 older adults at risk for cardiovascular disease one of three different diets: a low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet that included one liter of extra virgin olive oil per week, and a Mediterranean diet supplemented with 30 grams of nuts each day.
Each subject took a cognitive function test at the beginning of the study. About 75% of subjects completed a second round of brain evaluations at the end of the study after four years of follow-ups to assess the impact their respective diets had.
Based on the before and after tests, the low-fat diet group had a significant decrease in memory and cognitive function. At the same time, the additional nut diet group had significant improvements in memory, and the extra virgin olive oil group had significantly better cognitive function.
In an email, Dr. David Knopman, a Mayo Clinic neurologist, said “This diet study is much better than purely observational ones, but it is far from one that provides definitive evidence.”