Mediterranean Diet Protects Against Alzheimers Disease

Healthnotes Newswire (November 21, 2006)—A new study says that the best way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease may be on your dinner plate. The report, which was published in the Archives of Neurology, suggests that following the Mediterranean diet could significantly lower your chance of developing the disease.

In 400 B.C., Hippocrates said, “Let your food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” What the father of medicine shared so many years ago is backed by yet another study demonstrating that what you eat truly influences your disease risk.

The Mediterranean diet—which is really just a set of healthy eating habits with its roots in the Mediterranean region—incorporates plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes, breads, cereals, nuts, and seeds. Fish is eaten several times per week, while red meat, eggs, and dairy are eaten rarely. Olive oil is used for cooking and red wine is consumed in moderate amounts.

Although the total fat content of the diet exceeds the current recommendations of the American Heart Association, people who follow the Mediterranean diet tend to have lower risks of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol levels, blood sugar problems like diabetes, and several types of cancer.

No one knows for sure which aspects of the diet provide protection from disease, but some evidence suggests that the high levels of antioxidants derived from olive oil and the omega-3 fatty acids from fish might be responsible.

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that interferes with memory and the ability to think and concentrate. It’s different from normal age-related memory decline: with Alzheimer’s disease, the illness makes it increasingly difficult for the person to take care of themselves. With few effective therapies available for Alzheimer’s disease, prevention is key.

“[People] do not consume foods or nutrients in isolation, but rather as components of their daily diet,” say the authors of the study. They looked at how eating patterns—and adherence to the Mediterranean diet in particular—affected the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in almost 2,000 people.

The results were promising: people who followed the Mediterranean diet reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 68%.

“We observe that higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced disease odds,” the authors commented. “We note a gradual reduction in disease risk for [people who followed the diet more closely], suggesting a possible dose-response effect.”

(Arch Neurol 2006;63 [e-pub ahead of print])

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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