Recent research to come out of the University of Edinburgh has suggested that the traditional Mediterranean diet of foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish and wine could prevent neurological degeneration in later life. The study was published in the American Journal of Neurology and supported by Age UK, the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the UK Medical Research Council and the Scottish Funding Council SINAPSE Collaboration.
The Mediterranean diet is characterised by a high consumption of fruits, pulses, nuts, fish and olive oil and a low to moderate consumption of dairy products and other meats.
The study looked at 1000 participants living in Scotland over a 3 year period, participants were aged 73 on average with similar cognitive abilities and levels of education. A survey of their dietary habits was taken over the course of the study and at the end of the 3 years a MRI brain scan was administered to those still able in order to assess brain volume.
Of the remaining 360 participants, those that had stuck to a Mediterranean diet had far smaller overall reduction in brain volume and cortical size (the outer area of the brain) than those who had not.
Two studies running in parallel observed no significant difference in brain volume with regard to meat and fish consumption.
Mediterranean food specifically is associated with improved health
Dr Michelle Luciano, lead research of the study said:
"Since meat and fish were not significant alone, the association could likely be due to the Mediterranean style diet as a whole.
Three decades ago it was noticed that Mediterranean societies, which at the time were still sticking to that traditional diet, had significantly lower levels of cardiovascular disease. This led into research on dietary effects on dementia and neurological health. This Scottish study is a nice example of how Mediterranean food specifically is associated with improved health, rather than other lifestyle factors."
The researches involved in the study speculate that the nutritional benefits associated with the diet down to the higher levels of vitamin E and vitamin C as well as the increased levels of omega-3's provided by the higher amounts of oily fish. Further contributors could be the antioxidants found in the nuts and wine.
It's important to note that the research is not suggesting a causal link between diet and brain change, further research is needed into the possible cause of reduced brain shrinkage and the nutritional ingredients producing these affects in the diet.