Research & Your Health

Research & Your Health is a series of articles written in accessible, everyday language, focused on the latest scientific research of natural health products.

Mediterranean Diet: A Feasible Approach to Preserving Cognitive Function?

On June 17, 2016

Background: A Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) emphasizes a high intake of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, legumes, fish, whole grain cereals, nuts and seeds, with moderate wine consumption and low consumption of processed foods, dairy products, red meat and vegetable oils. In contrast, a Western diet emphasizes a higher intake of processed food, red meat, full-fat dairy, processed meats, alcohol, high energy, saturated fat and refined sugars and low intakes of vegetable and fruit, fibre and complex carbohydrates. Evidence suggests that a Western diet may play a role in the aetiology of cognitive decline.

Objective: The aim of this review was to investigate whether a MedDiet intervention would be a feasible preventative approach against cognitive decline for older adults living in Western countries.

Methods: This was a review article in which a coherent overview of evidence from a selective framework of principal studies were examined and summarized to enable critical evaluation of the following five topics: 1. the association between the MedDiet pattern and age-related cognitive function; 2. Potential mechanisms underlying the effects of the traditional MedDiet on age-related cognitive function; 3. The association between the Western dietary pattern and age-related cognitive function; 4. Potential mechanisms underlying the effects of the contemporary Western diet on age-related cognitive function; and 5. The feasibility of a MedDiet intervention in industrialized Western cultures. These topics were presented within a biopsychosocial model. Only randomized controlled interventions, cross-sectional and prospective studies were selected.

Results: The review found that the MedDiet contains a unique cocktail of multiple bioprotective nutrients and fatty acids from vegetable, marine and animal sources that may exert a multifactorial neuroprotective effect capable of enhancing age-related cognitive function. In contrast, excessive consumption of a Western-type dietary pattern is a potential factor leading to cognitive ageing and age-related cognitive impairment.

Conclusion: This review suggests that older adults from Western countries should be encouraged to adopt a MedDiet pattern in place of a Western diet in order to preserve cognitive health.

Findings in Perspective: It is important to note that strong intrinsic Western socio-cultural values, traditions and norms, together with palatability, availability and cost may impede on the ability to adopt a MedDiet. The review suggests a more “Westernized” MedDiet intervention may potentially be a more feasible approach in order to preserve age-related cognitive function over the long term.

Knight, A., Bryan, J., and Murphy, K. Ageing Research Reviews 25 (2016) 85-101.