The health of your brain and the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and brain atrophy.

Recent studies conducted in Spain and the United States have demonstrated that leading a healthy lifestyle and following a balanced diet, which is predominantly based upon the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of suffering a stroke or cerebral atrophy often related to ageing.

Tania Mesa – Nutritionist and Nurse from Neolife

According to a study carried out in Spain, the Mediterranean Diet helps to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as ischemic heart disease and strokes.

In Spain, the stroke is the third cause of mortality after ischemic heart disease and cancer and is the first cause of impairment and the second cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s. Nevertheless, this could be reduced if an individual is willing to change their lifestyle: manage their weight, blood pressure, blood sugar level and cholesterol; stop smoking and reduce the consumption of alcohol; participate in regular exercise and eat a healthy diet (the Mediterranean diet).

It is known as the Mediterranean Diet, as it has been the traditional eating pattern for countries in the Mediterranean area since the mid-twentieth century. The diet is characterized by consumption of a significantly high proportion of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, whole grains, garlic, onions and spices; moderate consumption of fish and poultry; the use of virgin olive oil (both for cooking and for dressing); the ingestion of wine (consumed in moderation with meals) and a comparatively low intake of saturated fats (including milk), meats, processed meat products and sweets.

Previous clinical and epidemiological studies conducted in recent years have shown the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease and more recently the PREDIMED study has demonstrated the benefit in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The PREDIMED study (1) (Prevention with Mediterranean Diet) is the largest clinical trial conducted in Spain, which involved 7,447 men and women aged between 55 and 80 over a period of 5 years. All participants were considered to have a high cardiovascular risk due to having diabetes mellitus type 2 or at least three of the following risk factors: hypertension, be overweight or obese, have a high LDL cholesterol, low HDL or were smokers who had not been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.

The participants were randomly assigned to one of the two Mediterranean diet groups (one group provided with supplemental extra virgin olive oil and another with nuts) and others were assigned to a control diet (low in fat, with advice on how to reduce dietary fats).

This study showed that those subjects who followed the Mediterranean Diet decreased their risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases such as ischemic heart disease and strokes.

The health of your brain and the Mediterranean diet
The health of your brain and the Mediterranean diet

According to another study conducted in the United States, older people who follow a DASH diet (similar to the Mediterranean Diet) have a greater volume of brain mass.

The latest AHA Guidelines (American Heart Association) and the American Stroke Association recommend the DASH diet – “Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension”, which is a diet similar to the Mediterranean Diet – it is low in sodium and rich in potassium, fruits and vegetables for the primary prevention of strokes (2).

Another recent study conducted by Columbia University in New York and presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology last April (3) has confirmed that older people who consume a Mediterranean Diet throughout their life have a greater volume of brain mass.

The study included 647 people aged 65 and over who had no pre-existing signs of dementia. The objective of the study was to investigate the relationship between the consumption of foodstuffs commonly associated with the Mediterranean Diet and structural measures (cerebral volume and cortical thickness) of the brain using magnetic resonance imaging.

The degree of adherence to the Mediterranean Diet by the participants was measured through a food frequency questionnaire about the amount of fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals, dairy products, meat, poultry and alcohol they were consuming. Intracranial volume, total brain volume, total grey matter volume, total white matter volume and cortical thickness were each evaluated as part of the study.

Of the nine foodstuffs described, the results were as follows:

  • Consumption of high levels of fish was associated with a greater volume of grey matter and cortical thickness.
  • Consumption of low levels of meat was associated with greater total brain volume and grey matter volume.
  • Participants who consumed a more Mediterranean diet had larger brain volumes (both in grey and white matter) equivalent to more than 1 year of ageing.

We must consider the Mediterranean Diet as a protective measure against the development of cardiovascular diseases, different types of cancer, certain neurodegenerative diseases and even ageing itself.

At Neolife, as a pioneering clinic in Anti-ageing Medicine, we promote healthy lifestyle habits, physical exercise, control/management of hormone levels and stress (thus helping patients to obtain a hormonal balance), diets based on the Mediterranean Diet and the intake of nutritional supplements (to counter any deficiencies in the diet), as well as promoting the improvement of rest and sleep patterns. It is possible to age in a healthy way and we can now maintain an optimal quality of life, whilst achieving an increased life expectancy. Through our anti-ageing programs we are able to achieve tangible positive effects on our health and in the prevention of age-related diseases.