Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and currently affects over 13 million people worldwide. The direct and indirect cost of Alzheimer care is over $100 billion in the US alone. A recent US multi-ethnic study has suggested that a greater adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet could cut the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by a whopping 68 percent.The Mediterranean diet, rich in cereals, wine, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains, fish and olive oil, has been linked to longer life, less heart disease, and protection against some cancers. The diet’s main nutritional components include beta-carotene, vitamin C, tocopherols, polyphenols, and essential minerals. It is these antioxidants and polyphenols that appear to offer protection, suggest the researchers from Columbia University.
So How Can The Mediterranean Diet Make A Difference?
Although the mechanism of Alzheimer’s is not clear, more support is gathering for the build-up of plaque from beta-amyloid deposits. The deposits are associated with an increase in brain cell damage and death from oxidative stress. It is against the oxidative stress that the Mediterranean diet could offer protection.
The findings of Nikolaos Scarmeas and his colleagues, published in the Archives of Neurology are based on results from a study of 194 Alzheimer disease (AD) cases (average age 82) and 1790 non-demented controls (average age 76). The controls had almost equal representation of White, Black and Hispanic subjects, while 59 percent of the AD cases were Hispanic, 31 percent Black and 9 percent White.
After adjusting the results for possible confounding factors, such as age, education, BMI, smoking status, and ethnicity, the researchers reported that people with the highest adherence to a model Mediterranean diet were associated with a 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, compared to people with the lowest adherence to the diet.
When the researchers took into account a series of cardiovascular variables, such as history of stroke, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and plasma lipid levels, the associations for the high adherence group grew stronger, with an associated risk reduction of 68 percent.
The Mediterranean diet is a modern nutritional model inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of some of the countries of the Mediterranean basin, particularly Southern Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Turkey and Spain.
Common to the diets of these regions are a high consumption of fruit and vegetables, bread and other cereals, olive oil and fish; making them low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat and dietary fiber. A main factor in the appeal of the Mediterranean Diet is its rich, full flavored foods. Margarine and other unhealthy hydrogenated oils are considered bland and lacking the flavor olive oil can impart to foods. Red wine is also consumed regularly but in moderate quantities.
Some questions have been raised as to if the diet provides adequate amounts of all nutrients, particularly calcium and iron. Nonetheless, green vegetables, a good source of calcium and iron, is used in the Mediterranean diet as well as goat cheese, a good source of calcium.