People who followed Mediterranean-inspired diets were found to have fewer signs of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains at autopsy, according to a new study of nearly 600 elderly adults.
The Mediterranean diet is made up of unprocessed cereals, legumes, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and potatoes.
The participants agreed to have their brains studied at Rush’s neurological research center after death. When examining those brains, the scientists specifically looked for two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease: amyloid plaques, which are buildups of protein fragments that can disrupt the communication between nerve cells; and tau tangles, which occur when a protein called tau becomes abnormally shaped and can no longer do its job to transport nutrients and other essential substances in nerve cells.
The study was published on March 8 in Neurology, the flagship journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“These results are exciting—improvement in people’s diets in just one area—such as eating more than six servings of green leafy vegetables per week, or not eating fried foods—was associated with fewer amyloid plaques in the brain similar to being about four years younger,” said Dr. Puja Agarwal, a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush and the study’s lead author.
“Our finding that eating more green leafy vegetables is in itself associated with fewer signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain is intriguing enough for people to consider adding more of these vegetables to their diet.”
The researchers noted that the findings don’t prove that following a healthy diet such as Mediterranean results in fewer Alzheimer’s disease plaques and tangles in the brain. They acknowledged that further investigation is needed to better understand the potential mechanisms through which diet may protect the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. According to the National Institutes of Health, there are about 5.8 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s and related dementia.
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