An estimated 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, with numbers set to rise to over one million by 2025.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of the brain disorder, affecting 62 percent of those diagnosed.
Patients suffer memory loss, confusion and problems with speech and understanding.
A new study has shown that following a Mediterranean diet can help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by up to three years.
Even more promising, the findings suggest that the Mediterranean style of eating could even stop the disease occurring altogether.
Lisa Mosconi at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York scanned the brains of 70 healthy adults, half who followed the Mediterranean diet, and half who followed a typically Western diet. The findings were published in New Scientist magazine.
The brain images of two women were displayed side by side. They were both in their early 50s and ate very different diets.
The first was an MRI scan of a women who has eaten a Mediterranean-style diet most of her life.
“Her brain takes up most of the space inside the skull,” she observed. “The ventricles, those little butterfly-shaped fissures in the middle of the brain, are small and compact.
“The hippocampus – the memory centre of the brain – is well-rounded and in close contact with the surrounding tissues.”
The Mediterranean diet can prevent Alzheimer’s disease from occurring
A diet rich in fish, olive oil, fruit and vegetables could delay dementia
The second scan was of a women who has eaten a Western-style diet for many years, including processed meat, dairy and sweets.
The image showed that her brain had developed signs of brain atrophy, or shrinkage, which Mosconi said indicated neuronal loss. “As the brain loses neurons, the space is replaced by fluids instead, which show up as black on an MRI,” she explained.
“There are more black areas present in the brain that has been fed a typical Western diet than in the brain that consumed a Mediterranean diet. These are all signs of accelerated ageing and increased risk of dementia.”
Research presented by Alzheimer’s Association International in 2017 supports these findings. It found that healthy older adults who followed a Mediterranean-style diet reduced their chance of getting dementia by a third.
“Eating a healthy plant-based diet is associated with better cognitive function and around 30-35 percent lower risk of cognitive impairment during ageing,” said Claire McEvoy, of the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine.
The Mediterranean diet’s high level of antioxidants could have a protective effect
A Mediterranean-style diet is fairly simple and focuses on fruit and vegetables, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil and fish.
Meat isn’t a staple in a typical Mediterranean diet. It does feature, though not as often as seafood, poultry and eggs.
There is very little refined sugar or flour in the diet, and aside from olive oil, fats such as butter are rarely consumed.
It’s thought the diet’s high level of antioxidants could have a protective effect.
It is also very high in protein, which may help to prevent brain inflammation and lower cholesterol, which could be linked to memory and cognitive problems.