A diet rich in fish and vegetables with less meat may slow the loss of brain cells in older people
The virtues of a Mediterranean diet have long been extolled and according to new research, this type of diet—rich in fish, vegetables and with less meat—may slow the loss of brain cells in older people, to the extent of equating to preventing five years of age related brain shrinkage.
The US study monitored the eating habits of 674 people, with an average age of 80, who lived in Manhattan and did not suffer from dementia. The participants were divided into groups which reflected whether or not they followed a Mediterranean style diet —which involves consuming less meat and dairy products than average, and a light to moderate amount of alcohol. Researchers found that those who did, ended up with bigger brains and a slowing down of the ageing process, according to the study published in Neurology Journal.
“These results are exciting, as they raise the possibility that people may potentially prevent brain shrinking and the effects of ageing on the brain simply by following a healthy diet,” said the main author, Yian Gu, of Columbia University in New York.
Total brain volume was on average 13.11 millilitres greater in those who had closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet than that of those who had not done so. Grey matter volume was 5mm greater, and white matter 6.4mm greater, than those whose diet had not been predominantly Mediterranean foods.
“The magnitude of the association with brain measures was relatively small. But when you consider that eating at least five of the recommended Mediterranean diet components has an association comparable to five years of age, that is substantial,” said Gu.
Regularly consuming fish and eating little meat was particularly effective. “Eating at least three to five ounces of fish weekly, or eating no more than three and a half ounces of meat daily, may provide considerable protection against loss of brain cells, equal to about three to four years of ageing,” Gu added.
The authors cautioned that their findings do not offer conclusive proof that the Mediterranean diet prevents brain shrinkage—it is merely an association.