The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes the consumption of fish and olive oil and avoids a lot of red meat, has been linked to a variety of health benefits in recent years including the maintenance of bone mass.
This latest study, published in the journal Neurology, was based on data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, a national sample of the general population. The study included dietary data on 17,478 people with an average age of 64.
“Since there are no definitive treatments for most dementing illnesses, modifiable activities, such as diet, that may delay the onset of symptoms of dementia are very important,” said Dr. Georgios Tsivgoulis, with the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Athens, Greece, in a press release.
Tsivgoulis and the other researchers examined how closely the study's participants adhered to a Mediterranean diet and then asked them to complete tests that measured memory and thinking abilities over an average of four years.
Among the study's healthy participants, those who followed the Mediterranean diet more closely were 19 percent less likely to develop problems with their thinking and memory skills. There was not a significant difference in declines between African-Americans and Caucasians. Although Tsivgoulis found that omega-3-rich food may be connected with preserving memory and thinking abilities, there was no such link found in people with diabetes.
“Diet is an important modifiable activity that could help in preserving cognitive functioning in late life,” Tsivgoulis said. “However, it is only one of several important lifestyle activities that might play a role in late-life mental functioning. Exercise, avoiding obesity, not smoking cigarettes and taking medications for conditions like diabetes and hypertension are also important.”
In 2008, another study by researchers at the University of Oxford found that a diet rich in fish, meat and milk could help stave off memory loss in old age.