Mediterranean Diet May Be Good for the Brain, Study Finds
(NEW YORK) -- A Mediterranean diet may reduce small-vessel damage to the brain, according to a new study published in the Archives of Neurology.
Researchers from University of Miami and Columbia University analyzed food frequency questionnaires filled out by 966 participants in the Northern Manhattan Study, a study designed to identify risk factors for stroke and coronary disease. Study participants then underwent brain MRI scans to analyze the white matter hyperintensity volume, which is a sign of small vessel disease.
Researchers found that people who closely followed a Mediterranean diet -- which is made up of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, whole grains, little red meat and a glass of red wine here and there -- had fewer brain lesions than those who had higher-fat and more red meat-based diets. People who exercised more were also more likely to consume foods associated with the Mediterranean diet.
“Normally, these lesions are associated with hypertension, high-cholesterol, diabetes and age,” said Dr. Clinton Wright, associate professor of neurology at Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami Medical Center and senior author of the study. “We saw that there was a relationship between diet and this marker of small vessel disease. Those who adhered to a more Mediterranean diet had less small vessel damage.”
Small vessel disease is a condition where the small arteries in the heart become narrowed. The disease can cause signs of heart disease, including chest pain and artery blockages, and it is most common in women and diabetics, according to the Mayo Clinic. The lesions are also linked to cognitive disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.
“Of course, this was an association study, and we’d need randomized trials to prove this association,” said Wright.
Dr. Ken Fujioka, director of nutrition and metabolic research at Scripps Health Clinic in San Diego, said the biggest single difference in the Mediterranean diet versus many other diets is the high amount of mono-unsaturated fats (found in vegetable oils, fish, nuts oils and avocados) that have been shown to have multiple health benefits.
Fujioka said he agreed with the findings, but said, “as we move forward we will get to a point for some people [where] this will be the best diet, but for others, a different diet might be better and the future is trying to find out which diet [is best] for which patient.”
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