1. Mediterranean-style diets linked to better brain function in older adults

    August 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Geriatrics Society press release:

    Eating foods included in two healthy diets — the Mediterranean or the MIND diet — is linked to a lower risk for memory difficulties in older adults, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

    The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, nuts, olive oil and fish. Processed foods, fried and fast foods, snack foods, red meat, poultry and whole-fat dairy foods are infrequently eaten on the Mediterranean diet.

    The MIND diet is a version of the Mediterranean diet that includes 15 types of foods. Ten are considered “brain-healthy:” green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, seafood, poultry, olive oil, and wine. Five are considered unhealthy: red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried/fast foods.

    Researchers examined information from 5,907 older adults who participated in the Health and Retirement Study. The participants filled out questionnaires about their eating habits. Researchers then measured the participants’ cognitive abilities — mostly on their memory and attention skills.

    The researchers compared the diets of participants to their performance on the cognitive tests. They found that older people who ate Mediterranean and MIND-style diets scored significantly better on the cognitive function tests than those who ate less healthy diets. In fact, older people who ate a Mediterranean-style diet had 35% lower risk of scoring poorly on cognitive tests. Even those who ate a moderate Mediterranean-style diet had 15% lower risk of doing poorly on cognitive tests. The researchers noted similar results for people who ate MIND-style diets.

    This study suggests that eating Mediterranean and MIND-style diets is linked to better overall cognitive function in older adults, said the researchers. What’s more, older adults who followed these healthy diets had lower risks for having cognitive impairment in later life, noted the researchers.


  2. Extra-virgin olive oil preserves memory, protects brain against Alzheimer’s

    July 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Temple University Health System press release:

    The Mediterranean diet, rich in plant-based foods, is associated with a variety of health benefits, including a lower incidence of dementia. Now, researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) have identified a specific ingredient that protects against cognitive decline: extra-virgin olive oil, a major component of the Mediterranean diet. In a study published online June 21 in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, the researchers show that the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil protects memory and learning ability and reduces the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain — classic markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

    The Temple team also identified the mechanisms underlying the protective effects of extra-virgin olive oil. “We found that olive oil reduces brain inflammation but most importantly activates a process known as autophagy,” explained senior investigator Domenico Praticò, MD, Professor in the Departments of Pharmacology and Microbiology and the Center for Translational Medicine at LKSOM. Autophagy is the process by which cells break down and clear out intracellular debris and toxins, such as amyloid plaques and tau tangles.

    “Brain cells from mice fed diets enriched with extra-virgin olive oil had higher levels of autophagy and reduced levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau,” Dr. Praticò said. The latter substance, phosphorylated tau, is responsible for neurofibrillary tangles, which are suspected of contributing to the nerve cell dysfunction in the brain that is responsible for Alzheimer’s memory symptoms.

    Previous studies have suggested that the widespread use of extra-virgin olive oil in the diets of people living in the Mediterranean areas is largely responsible for the many health benefits linked to the Mediterranean diet. “The thinking is that extra-virgin olive oil is better than fruits and vegetables alone, and as a monounsaturated vegetable fat it is healthier than saturated animal fats,” according to Dr. Praticò.

    In order to investigate the relationship between extra-virgin olive oil and dementia, Dr. Praticò and colleagues used a well-established Alzheimer’s disease mouse model. Known as a triple transgenic model, the animals develop three key characteristics of the disease: memory impairment, amyloid plagues, and neurofibrillary tangles.

    The researchers divided the animals into two groups, one that received a chow diet enriched with extra-virgin olive oil and one that received the regular chow diet without it. The olive oil was introduced into the diet when the mice were six months old, before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin to emerge in the animal model.

    In overall appearance, there was no difference between the two groups of animals. However, at age 9 months and 12 months, mice on the extra virgin olive oil-enriched diet performed significantly better on tests designed to evaluate working memory, spatial memory, and learning abilities.

    Studies of brain tissue from both groups of mice revealed dramatic differences in nerve cell appearance and function.

    “One thing that stood out immediately was synaptic integrity,” Dr. Praticò said. The integrity of the connections between neurons, known as synapses, were preserved in animals on the extra-virgin olive oil diet. In addition, compared to mice on a regular diet, brain cells from animals in the olive oil group showed a dramatic increase in nerve cell autophagy activation, which was ultimately responsible for the reduction in levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau.

    “This is an exciting finding for us,” explained Dr. Praticò. “Thanks to the autophagy activation, memory and synaptic integrity were preserved, and the pathological effects in animals otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease were significantly reduced. This is a very important discovery, since we suspect that a reduction in autophagy marks the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease.”

    Dr. Praticò and colleagues plan next to investigate the effects of introducing extra-virgin olive oil into the diet of the same mice at 12 months of age, when they have already developed plaques and tangles. “Usually when a patient sees a doctor for suspected symptoms of dementia, the disease is already present,” Dr. Praticò added. “We want to know whether olive oil added at a later time point in the diet can stop or reverse the disease.”


  3. Mediterranean diet may have lasting effects on brain health

    January 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) media release:

    healthy, vital seniorA new study shows that older people who followed a Mediterranean diet retained more brain volume over a three-year period than those who did not follow the diet as closely.

    The study is published in the January 4, 2017, online issue of Neurlogy®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. But contrary to earlier studies, eating more fish and less meat was not related to changes in the brain.

    The Mediterranean diet includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans and cereal grains such as wheat and rice, moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine, and limited red meat and poultry.

    As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory,” said study author Michelle Luciano, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.”

    Researchers gathered information on the eating habits of 967 Scottish people around age 70 who did not have dementia. Of those people, 562 had an MRI brain scan around age 73 to measure overall brain volume, gray matter volume and thickness of the cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. From that group, 401 people then returned for a second MRI at age 76. These measurements were compared to how closely participants followed the Mediterranean diet.

    The participants varied in how closely their dietary habits followed the Mediterranean diet principles. People who didn’t follow as closely to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have a higher loss of total brain volume over the three years than people who followed the diet more closely. The difference in diet explained 0.5 percent of the variation in total brain volume, an effect that was half the size of that due to normal aging.

    The results were the same when researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect brain volume, such as age, education and having diabetes or high blood pressure [hypertension].

    There was no relationship between grey matter volume or cortical thickness and the Mediterranean diet.

    The researchers also found that fish and meat consumption were not related to brain changes, which is contrary to earlier studies.

    It’s possible that other components of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for this relationship, or that it’s due to all of the components in combination,” Luciano said.

    Luciano noted that earlier studies looked at brain measurements at one point in time, whereas the current study followed people over time.

    “In our study, eating habits were measured before brain volume was, which suggests that the diet may be able to provide long-term protection to the brain,” said Luciano. “Still, larger studies are needed to confirm these results.”

     


  4. Fruit and vegetables are not only good for a healthy body; they protect your mind too

    February 8, 2016 by Ashley

    From the BioMed Central media release:

    mediterranean_diet_ingredientsEating a Mediterranean diet or other healthy dietary pattern, comprising of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and nuts and low in processed meats, is associated with preventing the onset of depression, according to research published in the open access journal BMC Medicine.

    A large study of 15,093 people suggests depression could be linked with nutrient deficits.

    Following extensive research into diet and its effect on our physical health, researchers are now exploring the link between nutrition and mental health. This is the first time that several healthy dietary patterns and their association with the risk of depression have been analyzed together.

    The researchers compared three diets; the Mediterranean diet, the Pro-vegetarian Dietary Pattern and Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010. Participants used a scoring system to measure their adherence to the selected diet, i.e. the higher the dietary score indicated that the participant was eating a healthier diet.

    Food items such as meat and sweets (sources of animal fats: saturated and trans fatty acids) were negatively scored, while nuts, fruits and vegetables (sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals respectively) were positively scored.

    Lead researcher, Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, says “We wanted to understand what role nutrition plays in mental health, as we believe certain dietary patterns could protect our minds. These diets are all associated with physical health benefits and now we find that they could have a positive effect on our mental health.”

    “The protective role is ascribed to their nutritional properties, where nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables (sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals) could reduce the risk of depression.”

    The study included 15,093 participants free of depression at the beginning of the study. They are former students of the University of Navarra, Spain, registered professionals from some Spanish provinces and other university graduates. All are part of the SUN (Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra) Project, a cohort study started on 21st December 1999. The cohort has been used to identify dietary and lifestyle determinants of various conditions, including diabetes, obesity and depression.

    Questionnaires to assess dietary intake were completed at the start of the project and again after 10 years. A total of 1,550 participants reported a clinical diagnosis of depression or had used antidepressant drugs after a median follow-up of 8.5 years.

    The Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 was associated with the greatest reduction of risk of depression but most of the effect could be explained by its similarity with the Mediterranean Diet. Thus, common nutrients and food items such as omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and moderate alcohol intake present in both patterns (Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 and Mediterranean diet) could be responsible for the observed reduced risk in depression associated with a good adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010.

    Almudena Sanchez-Villegas says, “A threshold effect may exist. The noticeable difference occurs when participants start to follow a healthier diet. Even a moderate adherence to these healthy dietary patterns was associated with an important reduction in the risk of developing depression. However, we saw no extra benefit when participants showed high or very high adherence to the diets.

    So, once the threshold is achieved, the reduced risk plateaus even if participants were stricter with their diets and eating more healthily. This dose-response pattern is compatible with the hypothesis that suboptimal intake of some nutrients (mainly located in low adherence levels) may represent a risk factor for future depression.”

    A limitation of this study was that the results are based on self-reported dietary intake and a self-reported clinical diagnosis of depression. More research is needed to predict the role of nutrient intake for neurophysiological requirements and identify whether it is minerals and vitamins or proteins and carbohydrates that cause depression.