Those who follow the Mediterranean and MIND diets could be at a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a recent study found.
Researchers from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, conducted the study, which was published in the journal Neurology.
The researchers analyzed the autopsy results of 581 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, who had provided their complete dietary information at the start of the study. Those who followed a Mediterranean diet — particularly green, leafy vegetables — showed fewer signs of Alzheimer’s in their brain tissue.
In an email to Fox News Digital, the study’s lead author called the findings “encouraging.”
The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based nutrition plan that mimics the regional cuisines of the countries along the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy and Greece.
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Its mainstay foods include whole vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, and herbs and spices, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website. Olive oil is the primary source of added fat.
Other foods — including fish, poultry and dairy — can be incorporated in moderation. The diet limits red meat, sweets, butter and sugary drinks.
The MIND diet — a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets — is designed to promote brain health in older adults. Dr. Martha Clare Morris and colleagues at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and Rush University Medical Center first introduced it in 2015.
Meanwhile, the DASH diet was introduced by the American Heart Association in 1996 as a dietary approach to lowering blood pressure. Its core foods are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and low-fat milk.
Alzheimer’s disease occurs when substances called “plaques” and “tangles” form in the brain.
Plaques are “deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that build up in the spaces between nerve cells,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association website.
Tangles are “twisted fibers of another protein called tau that build up inside cells.”
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“We have encouraging results that people who were eating healthier had fewer plaques and tangles in their brains,” Dr. Puja Agarwal, lead author of the study and assistant professor of Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, told Fox News Digital in an email.
Participants who scored the highest for consumption of the Mediterranean diet had almost 40% lower odds of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the doctor added.
“These results are encouraging because improvement in people’s diets in just one area — such as eating more than six servings of green, leafy vegetables per week or not eating fried foods — was associated with fewer amyloid plaques in the brain, similar to being about four years younger,” said Dr. Agarwal.
Based on the study findings, the doctor said that making simple food choices — such as green leafy vegetables, berries, fish, legumes and nuts — and limiting high-fat, high-sugar foods may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Linsday Allen, a Largo, Florida-based registered dietitian nutritionist who was not involved with the study, believes these findings reinforce a strong correlation between specific dietary choices and brain health.
“We already knew that Mediterranean-style diets are protective against heart disease and other metabolic conditions due to their high amounts of antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber and healthy fats,” she told Fox News Digital in an email.
“Now we can see that there’s also a correlation between this type of eating and brain health.”
“I think this really drives home the message that people, especially into their wiser years, need to reconsider eating a typical ‘Western diet’ that’s filled with refined grains, sugar, fried foods and unhealthy (refined) fats,” Allen added.
The study adjusted for factors such as smoking habits, physical activity and history of heart disease.
Those with mild cognitive impairment or dementia were excluded.
However, there were some limitations.
Because most participants were white, non-Hispanic and older (averaging 84 years of age at the start of the study and 91 at death), Dr. Agarwal said the study results can’t be extended to other populations.
Dr. Jared Braunstein, DO, an internist with Medical Offices of Manhattan who reviewed the research but was not involved, is a proponent of the Mediterranean diet but regards the findings with caution.
“I believe the Mediterranean diet can provide health benefits — particularly for diabetic patients — and can prevent cardio and cerebrovascular diseases,” he told Fox News Digital in an email.
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“However, because of the small sample size of the population tested, I cannot say with confidence that this diet is a game-changer for reducing signs of Alzheimer’s.”
This isn’t the first study to suggest a correlation between the Mediterranean diet and Alzheimer’s prevention.
In 2021, another study published in the same journal evaluated 512 seniors with an average age of 69. About 343 were considered at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Researchers found that those who more closely followed a Mediterranean diet performed better on cognitive tests, showed less brain shrinkage and had lower levels of the two abnormal proteins associated with Alzheimer’s compared to those who did not follow the diet as rigorously, as Fox News Digital reported.
Additional research is needed to further establish these findings, the researchers said.