Jan 25 Hopes that a Mediterranean diet would be
as good for the head as it is for the heart may have been
dampened by a French study that found little benefit for aging
brains from the diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains,
nuts, wine and olive oil.
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition, looked at the participants' dietary patterns in
middle age and measured their cognitive performance at around
age 65, but found no connection between Mediterranean eating and
"Our study does not support the hypothesis of a significant
neuroprotective effect of a (Mediterranean diet) on cognitive
function," wrote study leader Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot at the
nutritional epidemiology research center of the French national
health research agency INSERM.
It's been suggested that the "good" fats in the
Mediterranean diet might benefit the brain directly, or that low
saturated fats and high fiber in the diet could help stave off
cognitive decline indirectly by keeping blood vessels healthy.
Previous research has seemed to uphold that premise.
One large study in the U.S. Midwest, for example, found that
people in their 60s and older who ate a mostly Mediterranean
diet were less prone to mental decline as they aged. Another
study of residents of Manhattan linked a Mediterranean-style
diet to a 40 percent lower risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers in the French study used data on 3,083 people
who were followed from the mid-1990s, when they were at least 45
At the beginning of the study, participants recorded what
they ate over one 24-hour period every two months, for a total
of six dietary record samples per year. Then, between 2007 and
2009 when the participants were about 65 years old, their memory
and other mental abilities were measured.
Researchers then separated participants into three
categories depending on how closely they adhered to a
Mediterranean-style diet, and compared their mental ability test
Overall, they found that people who ate a diet closest to
the Mediterranean ideal performed about the same as those who
ate a non-restricted diet.
Nikos Scarmeas, who was not involved with the study but has
researched the effects of food on brain health, said it's
important to note that the new study had some limitations.
For instance, researchers only tested the participants'
mental abilities once, making it impossible to track whether
they got better or worse over time, added Scarmeas, an associate
professor at New York's Columbia University Medical Center.
"We don't have the strong evidence to go and tell
people,'Listen, if you follow this diet, it will improve
cognition,'" he said.
(Reporting from New York by Andrew Seaman at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies)