Eating a traditional Mediterranean diet — high in foods like seafood, fruit and nuts — may help reduce the risk of dementia by nearly a quarter, a new study has found.
Experts from Newcastle University found that people who ate a Mediterranean diet had up to a 23% lower risk of dementia than those who didn’t.
This research was published in Journal on March 14, 2023 BMC medicineis one of the largest studies of its kind, as previous studies were typically limited to small sample sizes and small numbers of dementia cases.
priority for researchers
Scientists analyzed data from 60,298 people from the UK Biobank, a large cohort of people from across the UK who had completed a nutritional assessment.
The authors rated people based on how closely their diets matched the key characteristics of a Mediterranean diet. The participants were followed for almost a decade, during which time there were 882 cases of dementia.
The authors took into account each individual’s genetic risk of dementia by estimating what is known as polygenic risk – a measure of all the different genes linked to dementia risk.
dr Oliver Shannon, Lecturer in Human Nutrition and Aging at Newcastle University, co-led the study with Professor Emma Stevenson and joint senior author Professor David Llewellyn.
The research also included experts from the Universities of Edinburgh, UEA and Exeter and was part of the NuBrain consortium funded by the Medical Research Council.
dr Shannon said: “Dementia affects the lives of millions of people around the world and there are currently limited options for treating this condition.
“Finding ways to reduce our risk of developing dementia is therefore a top priority for researchers and clinicians.
“Our study suggests that a more Mediterranean-style diet could be a strategy to help people reduce their risk of dementia.”
The authors found that there was no significant interaction between polygenic risk for dementia and associations between Mediterranean diet adherence. They say this could suggest that even for those at higher genetic risk, better diet could reduce the likelihood of developing the condition.
This result was not consistent across analyzes and the authors suggest that further research is needed to assess the interaction between diet and genetics on dementia risk.
John Mathers, Professor of Human Nutrition at Newcastle University, said: “The good news from this study is that better nutrition reduces the likelihood of developing dementia, even for those at higher genetic risk.
“While more research is needed in this area, it reinforces the public health message that we can all help reduce our risk of dementia by eating a more Mediterranean diet.”
The authors warn that since genetic data was only available based on European ancestry, their analysis is limited to individuals who self-reported their ethnic background as White, British or Irish, and that further research is needed across a range of populations to determine the potential benefit.
They conclude that based on their data, a Mediterranean diet with a high intake of healthy plant-based foods could be an important intervention that should be integrated into future dementia risk reduction strategies.
dr Janice Ranson, senior research fellow at the University of Exeter and joint lead author of the paper, said: “The results of this large population-based study underscore the long-term benefits for brain health of consuming a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, Whole grains and healthy fats.
“The protective effect of this diet against dementia was evident regardless of a person’s genetic risk, and therefore it is likely to be a beneficial lifestyle choice for people who want to make healthy dietary choices and reduce their risk of dementia.”
“Future efforts to prevent dementia could go beyond general advice on healthy eating and focus on helping people increase consumption of certain foods and nutrients essential to brain health.”
Reference: “Mediterranean diet adherence is associated with a lower risk of dementia regardless of genetic predisposition: results of the UK Biobank prospective cohort study” by Oliver M. Shannon, Janice M. Ranson, Sarah Gregory, Helen Macpherson, Catherine Milte, Marleen Lentjes, Angela Mulligan, Claire McEvoy, Alex Griffiths, Jamie Matu, Tom R Hill, Ashley Adamson, Mario Siervo, Anne Marie Minihane, Graciela Muniz-Tererra, Craig Ritchie, John C Mathers, David J Llewellyn and Emma Stevenson, 14. March 2023, BMC medicine.