Seniors Boost Brain Power with Mediterranean Diet,
Extra Olive Oil, Nuts
Better than low fat option for those at risk of
May 22, 2013 - A Mediterranean diet with added
extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts seems to improve the brain power of
older people better than following a low-fat diet, indicates research
published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and
The authors from the University of Navarra in Spain
base their findings on 522 men and women aged between 55 and 80 without
cardiovascular disease but at high vascular risk because of underlying
These included either type 2 diabetes or three of
the following: high blood pressure; an unfavorable blood fat profile;
overweight; a family history of early cardiovascular disease; and being
Participants, who were all taking part in the
PREDIMED trial looking at how best to ward off cardiovascular disease,
were randomly allocated to a Mediterranean diet with added olive oil or
mixed nuts or a control group receiving advice to follow the low-fat
diet typically recommended to prevent heart attack and stroke.
A Mediterranean diet is characterized by the use of
virgin olive oil as the main culinary fat; high consumption of fruits,
nuts, vegetables and pulses; moderate to high consumption of fish and
seafood; low consumption of dairy products and red meat; and moderate
intake of red wine.
Participants had regular check-ups with their
family doctor and quarterly checks on their compliance with their
After an average of 6.5 years, they were tested for
signs of cognitive decline using a Mini Mental State Exam and a clock
drawing test, which assess higher brain functions, including
orientation, memory, language, visuospatial and visuoconstrution
abilities and executive functions such as working memory, attention
span, and abstract thinking.
At the end of the study period, 60 participants had
developed mild cognitive impairment: 18 on the olive oil supplemented
Mediterranean diet; 19 on the diet with added mixed nuts; and 23 on the
A further 35 people developed dementia: 12 on the
added olive oil diet; six on the added nut diet; and 17 on the low fat
The average scores on both tests were significantly
higher for those following either of the Mediterranean diets compared
with those on the low fat option.
These findings held true irrespective of other
influential factors, including age, family history of cognitive
impairment or dementia, the presence of ApoE protein - associated with
Alzheimers disease - educational attainment, exercise levels, vascular
risk factors; energy intake and depression.
The authors acknowledge that their sample size was
relatively small, and that because the study involved a group at high
vascular risk, it doesnt necessarily follow that their findings are
applicable to the general population.
But they say, theirs is the first long term trial
to look at the impact of the Mediterranean diet on brain power, and that
it adds to the increasing body of evidence suggesting that a high
quality dietary pattern seems to protect cognitive function in the
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