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Mediterranean diet has a “protective effect” against dementia

Eating a diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and healthy fats, and low in red meat, could reduce the risk of dementia, research has found.

Eating a diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and healthy fats, and low in red meat, could reduce the risk of dementia, research published in BMC Medicine has found.

The study, which is one of the largest of its kind, found that individuals who ate a Mediterranean-like diet had up to 23% lower risk for dementia.

The authors of the study say the study’s results indicate that a Mediterranean diet has a “protective effect” against dementia, regardless of a person’s genetic risk.

Eating a Mediterranean diet could be beneficial to those with a higher genetic risk of dementia

Researchers from Exeter University and Newcastle University analysed data from just under 6,300 individuals from the UK Biobank.

Each participant had completed a dietary assessment; the researchers then analysed how closely each person’s nutritional intake matched the key features of a Mediterranean diet.

The participants’ polygenic risk (the genetic risk for dementia) was then analysed and compared to their diet. The authors found there was no significant interaction between the polygenic risk for dementia and the associations between Mediterranean diet adherence.

This may indicate that even for those with a higher genetic risk, having a better diet could reduce the likelihood of developing the condition, according to the authors.

However, this finding was not consistent across all the analyses and lead author, John Mathers, Professor of Human Nutrition, Newcastle University, says more research now needs to be done to confirm the findings.

“Although more research is needed in this area, this strengthens the public health message that we can all help to reduce our risk of dementia by eating a more Mediterranean-like diet,” he said.

The authors also note that the findings can only be applied to people from white, British or Irish ethnic backgrounds, as genetic data was only available based on European ancestry.

Mediterranean diet supports brain health

Nevertheless, Dr Janice Ranson, at the University of Exeter, joint lead author on the paper says the findings could be used to inform dementia prevention programmes in the UK.

She said: “Future dementia prevention efforts could go beyond generic healthy diet advice and focus on supporting people to increase consumption of specific foods and nutrients that are essential for brain health.”

Dr Oliver Shannon, Lecturer in Human Nutrition and Ageing at Newcastle University and joint study lead echoed this sentiment, saying: “Dementia impacts the lives of millions of individuals throughout the world, and there are currently limited options for treating this condition.

“Finding ways to reduce our risk of developing dementia is, therefore, a major priority for researchers and clinicians.”

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