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November 3, 2015

By: Ankit Pandav

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When someone mentions to you that they are on a “Mediterranean diet”, what kind of foods come to mind? Many people instantly think a Mediterranean diet consists of gyros, lasagna, pasta, pizza, plenty of meat and a lots of wine. Others simply consider it to be a healthy diet which most people can’t afford. For the most part however, both of these thoughts are incorrect. A Mediterranean diet consists of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and a moderate amount of wine. What’s more, a study run by Mayo clinic and University of Maryland Medical Center recently discovered that a Mediterranean diet has many health benefits such as protecting against type 2 diabetes, preventing heart disease and strokes, it reduces the risk of developing muscle weakness, and it reduces the risk of developing diseases like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and others.1

Another recent study also shows that the Mediterranean diet may reduce brain shrinkage. A greater amount of shrinkage can be linked to cognitive decline.2 The study author, Yian Gu, states that “It was encouraging to see that the more you adhere to this Mediterranean diet, the more protection you get against brain atrophy [shrinkage].” 3 In his study, there were 674 adults without dementia who averaged close to 80 years of age.  They were split into two groups based on how closely their diets aligned with the Mediterranean diet.3 The researcher then scanned the patients’ brains and measured their brain volume.  “The brains of devotees of the Mediterranean Diet were 13.11 milliliters larger on average than those who did not eat that way.”4 The research study was a cross-sectional study and its method of scanning the brain was high-resolution structural MRI.5

This finding is important, as it appears a Mediterranean diet may help prevent brain related diseases. There continues to be a lack of effective pharmaceutical treatment for common types of dementia. Lifestyle changes seem to be the only treatment that can prevent or postpone the growth of the dementia.6  Although this study and many others like it suggest that following a Mediterranean diet can have a significant positive impact on one’s daily life, whether or not it can definitely prevent dementia is still inconclusive and will require further studies. One of the biggest limitations to this study is that it can’t show whether the diet actually caused less brain shrinkage over time. Another is that the researchers might have brought bias when picking the candidates as they only picked candidates from certain financial classes and race. Also, reliability of the patient’s self-reported testimonies regarding eating the Mediterranean diet is poor. However, it is safe to conclude that a diet, like the Mediterranean, is very beneficial for our health and this research provides us with a new and exciting opportunity to live a healthier lifestyle.7

Based on the evidence above, a modification to our American diet can lead to not just weight loss, healthier hearts, and lower cholesterol, but potentially limit the scope of brain related illnesses. So what are some tips on eating more “Mediterranean”? One way is to incorporate eating more fish rather than meat. Another way is to eat nuts instead of unhealthy snacks. Vegetables and beans are important, and even a moderate amount of wine can be beneficial. As with any healthy diet, it is also important to stay active, whether that means taking a regular light jog or pace walking. Also, a very important factor to remember is to have everything in moderation. Going overboard and having too much food of the Mediterranean diet could potentially have the opposite effect and lead to harmful results. Readers should also always be aware of their allergies since the Mediterranean diet does consist of a high amount of nuts. In the end one of the biggest questions that we should ask is that what kind of impact does the Mediterranean diet have when started earlier in life versus later stages?

References:

  1. The Mediterranean Diet. : Myths, Facts, and Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet 2015.
  2. Eating a Healthy Diet May Reduce Brain Shrinkage. Eating a Healthy Diet May Reduce Brain Shrinkage 2015.
  3. Mediterranean Diet May Keep Your Mind Healthier in Old Age: MedlinePlus. U.S National Library of Medicine 2015.
  4. Shah A. Mediterranean Diet may protect against age-related brain atrophy, dementia, new study shows. Star Tribune 2015.
  5. Gu Y. Mediterranean diet and brain structure in a multiethnic elderly cohort. Mediterranean diet and brain structure in a multiethnic elderly cohort 2015.
  6. Safaris A. Mediterranean Diet and Risk of Dementia. Latest TOC RSS 2015.
  7. Could A Mediterranean Diet Keep Your Brain From Shrinking? NBC News 2015.

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