The heart-healthy benefits of the so-called Mediterranean diet are well known, but new research suggests the eating plan may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, too.
People who carefully followed the Mediterranean diet -- heavy on fish, fruits and vegetables, monounsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil, and low on meat and dairy products -- had a 40 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's than those who ate the conventional American diet.
"That is a pretty significant effect," said Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas, assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center and leader of the study.
While a number of studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet decreases the risk of heart disease, this is the first research to show a benefit in terms of mental function, he said, reports Forbes.
According to Irish Health , a team of researchers followed the progress of over 2,200 people who did not show any signs of dementia at the beginning of the study. The participants underwent a number of medical assessments, including a neurological exam. Their dietary habits were also recorded.
They were then reassessed every 18 months for an average of four years. During the course of the study, 262 people developed Alzheimer's.
The participants were given a 'Mediterranean diet score' of between zero and nine, depending on how much they adhered to this diet.
The Mediterranean diet involves a high intake of olive oil, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and starchy foods, such as bread, potatoes and pasta. Dairy products, fish, poultry and wine are consumed in low to moderate amounts, while red meat is rarely eaten.
The study found that the higher a person scored, the lower the risk of Alzheimer's. In fact, for each additional point on the Mediterranean diet score, the risk of Alzheimer's fell by almost 10%.
Compared with those who scored the lowest, those who scored in the middle were 15-21% less likely to develop Alzheimer's, while those who scored the highest were up to 40% less likely to develop the disease.
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