A new study strengthens existing evidence to suggest that regular consumption of a Mediterranean-style diet is linked to preserving memory and thinking ability with aging in healthy people.
Such diets are rich in foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids - including fish, walnuts, almonds, beans and leafy vegetables - and contain very little saturated fats, meat or dairy foods.
Omega-3 fats are essential dietary fats which our body cannot make but need to consume for proper health. Made mainly by cold water algae, they also occur in cold water oily fish such as sardines, wild salmon, herring, mackerel and tuna that feed on these plants. These are our best dietary sources of these essential fats.
Since there are no definitive treatments for most dementias, diet and lifestyle approaches are usually the most effective way of tackling them.
The data for this study was obtained from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, which enrolled 30,239 people ages 45 and older and still continues to follow them to observe health changes.
Dietary information from 17,478 study participants was reviewed to see how closely they adhered to a Mediterranean diet. Participants also underwent tests that measured memory and thinking abilities over an average of four years. Roughly 17 percent of participants had diabetes.
Interestingly, in healthy people, those who closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 19% less likely to develop thinking and memory problems. However, this diet did not lower the risk of developing thinking and memory problems in diabetic patients.
Clearly, diet can preserve cognitive functioning in late life. However, it is only one of several important lifestyle activities that play a role. Exercise, avoiding obesity, not smoking cigarettes and taking medications regularly for conditions like diabetes and hypertension are also important to protect against onset of dementias and other age-related cognitive decline.