A study by researchers in Columbia Mailman School’s department of epidemiology and researchers from Columbia’s department of neurology found that a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats and low in dairy or meats may lead to a more youthful brain in old age. Participants who followed this Mediterranean-type diet more closely on average had larger total brain volume, and larger gray and white matter volumes. Overall, the difference in brain volume between the people who followed more and those who followed less of a Mediterranean diet was similar to the effect of five years of aging. Findings are published in the journal Neurology.
Researchers followed 674 people in the Washington Heights/Hamilton Heights Inwood areas of New York area who showed no signs of dementia. The participants, who were on average 80 years old and ethnically diverse, were questioned about their diets. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were performed to measure brain volume, on average 0.6 years (up to 13 years) after the dietary assessments.
The study showed that those who ate the most foods in a Mediterranean-type diet had a total brain volume 13 ml larger than those who did not follow the diet. Because lower brain volume is one of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease, this latest research may help explain why a healthy diet seems to protect against cognitive decline or development of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the researchers.
Two key food components of Mediterranean diet seemed to be particularly important. Those who ate less meat or more fish also showed larger total brain volume and gray matter on brain scans. “Among cognitively healthy older adults, we were able to detect an association between higher adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet and better brain measures,” the researchers noted.
The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, grants AG042483, AG037212, AG034189, and P60 MD000206.