Researchers: Mediterranean Diet Could Protect Your Brain As You Age

Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet may help protect your brain as you age, numerous studies show. [1]

At least 2 studies concluded that people’s risk for dementia declined when they ate the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay (MIND) diet. Think of it as sort of a hybrid of the original Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which were designed to improve heart health.

The DASH diet consists of foods that are low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol, and is intended to lower blood pressure. It is rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. It’s quite similar to the Mediterranean diet, but the Mediterranean diet is a bit more specific, in that butter is replaced with olive oil and other healthful fats, and herbs are substituted for salt.

Source: Gill Heart & Vascular Institute

In one of those studies, seniors who strictly followed the MIND diet were found to have a 35% reduced risk of age-related decline in brain function. Even those who followed the diet loosely reduced their risk of brain decline between 18-24%. Those who closely followed the diet were also 35% less likely to perform poorly on tests of brain function.

Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association, said:

“We’ve always been saying that a healthy heart is a healthy brain. Your brain uses 20% of your cardiac output for getting oxygen and glucose. If you don’t have a good pump, that saps the brain of a lot of things needed to sustain its normal function.”

Adhering to a heart-healthy diet also helps protect blood vessels inside the brain, thereby reducing the risk of mini-strokes and other health problems.

Read: 7 Natural Brain Foods for Cognition and Concentration

The second study used data from the U.S.-based Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, which involved about 7,000 women over the course of 10 years. That research revealed that women who closely followed the MIND diet were 34% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to the women who didn’t follow the diet at all.

However, like the first study, following the MIND diet even part of the time still provided much-needed health perks. Women who moderately followed the eating pattern were between 21-24% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, the researchers found.

Even More Evidence

Source: Canadian Living

An additional 2 studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association meeting revealed the following:

  • In a Swedish study of more than 2,000 participants, those who ate a healthy diet called the ‘Nordic Prudent Dietary Pattern’ for 6 years had better brain health. People who follow the Nordic diet limit their consumption of root vegetables, refined grains, butter and margarine, as well as sugary foods and fruit juice.
  • Researchers from Columbia University found that people who consumed a diet that encourages inflammation had a difficult time playing brain games. A smaller total volume of gray matter was observed in MRI scans of those participants’ brains. What is an inflammatory diet? High intake of cholesterol, sugar, vegetable oil, fried foods, saturated fats, and more.

It’s important to note that all of the studies were observational, so they can’t prove cause-and-effect. In order to do that, scientifically controlled experiments are necessary. [2]

Read: 5 Things You Should be Eating to Protect Your Brain as It Ages

A lead study author Claire McEvoy, of the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine, said:

“I think the studies, taken together, suggest a role for high quality dietary patterns in brain health and for protection against cognitive decline during aging. Diet is modifiable, and in light of these studies we need clinical trials to test whether changing diet can improve or maintain cognition.”

Keith Fargo, Alzheimer’s Association Director of Scientific Programs and Outreach, was encouraged by the size and depth of the research. He said:

“Although the idea that a healthy diet can help protect against cognitive decline as we age is not new, the size and length of these 4 studies demonstrate how powerful good dietary practices may be in maintaining brain health and function.”

Sources:

[1] Health Day

[2] CNN

Gill Heart & Vascular Institute

Canadian Living

Happy New Year! These are the “Best Diets for 2019”

The holidays are officially over, and although you may still be picking at leftovers and what’s left in the office cookie tin, it’s time to start thinking about how to make THIS year a healthy year… again!

U.S. News & World Report, which calls itself “the global authority in rankings and consumer advice,” has just published its annual assessment of the year’s Best Diets. The platform offers pretty much all the information you could possibly ask for on more than 40 diets.

For 2019, the Mediterranean Diet was ranked the best for the 2nd year in a row for the 45 million Americans who diet each year. The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) held the #1 spot for 2017, and tied with the Mediterranean Diet for 1st Place in 2018. For 2019, the DASH Diet ranks #2 on the extensive list.

The Mediterranean Diet, which has been shown to extend your life and prevent many chronic diseases, was also ranked 1st in other, specific categories:

  • Easiest Diets to Follow
  • Best Diets for Healthy Eating
  • Best Diets for Diabetes
  • Best Diets for Heart Health (tie)

This year, the Nordic Diet has been gaining more attention by nutritionists and health experts, earning itself the #3 spot for U.S. News & World Report’s Best Plant-Based Diet. The Keto Diet – a low-carb, high-fat eating pattern – rose from #13 in 2018 to #2 on the Best Fast Weight-Loss Diet list.

Click for larger version. Source: KetoKitchen

Angela Haupt, Assistant Managing Editor of Health at U.S. News, said:

“Whether you’re trying to lose weight or manage your cholesterol, the 2019 Best Diets rankings provide each person a chance to evaluate what eating plan will work best for them and their particular needs.

By profiling and providing in-depth data on more than 40 diets, as well as sample meals, consumers can rely on U.S. News for the tools they need to feel empowered to make well-informed lifestyle and wellness changes.”

Methods and Rankings

U.S. News convened an expert panel of the leading nutritionists, dietary consultants, and doctors specializing in diabetes, heart health, and weight-loss to calculate the rankings. Each specialist completed a survey in which they scored 41 diets in 7 areas. Among other things, the specialists took into consideration:

  • Ease of compliance
  • Likelihood of losing significant weight in the short-term/long-term
  • Effectiveness against diabetes and cardiovascular disease

Expert panelist Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, and author of The Truth about Food, said:

“While the fundamentals of healthy eating remain constant year to year, new research and insights help continuously evolve best practices over time.”

He added that the rankings:

“rely on diverse expertise to respond to what’s new and diverting in nutrition, while highlighting healthy eating principles that are time-honored, evidence-based, and reliable.”

You can find the full lists and descriptions of the various diets on U.S. News’ website, but here the top diets from a few of the more notable lists.

Best Diets Overall:

  • Mediterranean Diet – #1
  • DASH Diet – #2
  • The Flexitarian Diet – #3

Best Weight-Loss Diets:

  • Weight Watchers Diet – #1
  • Volumetrics Diet -#2
  • The Flexitarian Diet, Jenny Craig Diet, Vegan Diet – #3 (tie)

Best Diabetes Diets:

  • Mediterranean Diet – #1
  • DASH Diet, The Flexitarian Diet, Mayo Clinic Diet, Volumetrics Diet – #2 (tie)

Best Heart-Healthy Diets:

  • Mediterranean Diet, Ornish Diet – #1 (tie)
  • DASH Diet – #3

Best Plant-Based Diets:

  • Mediterranean Diet – #1
  • The Flexitarian Diet – #2
  • Nordic Diet, Ornish Diet – #3

It’s important to realize that the diet that is “best” is what works best for you. It isn’t enough to merely pick up one of these diets until you are ready to delve deep into the lifestyle that comes with it so that life is enjoyable as possible.

Source:

U.S. News & World Report

MyKetoKitchen

MayoClinic

Mediterranean Diet ‘Just as Good as Statins’ for Preventing Heart Disease

Do a quick search for “Mediterranean diet” on our site and you will find oodles of articles espousing the health benefits of this eating lifestyle.  In December, yet another study showed that people who eat a Mediterranean-style diet have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease – possibly even as low as those taking statin drugs.

Let’s see why this diet can be so good for the heart.

Lead study author Shafqut Ahmad, Ph.D., a research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said of the findings:

“We didn’t know the potential mechanisms of how a Mediterranean diet reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. It was like a black box. Through this study, we know that a Mediterranean diet reduces or improves a lot of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which are very important in terms of prevention.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., and kills about 600,000 people each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most common form is coronary heart disease, which claims 370,000 lives annually. Some 735,000 Americans suffer a heart attack each year. [2]

For the research, Ahmad and his colleagues recruited more than 25,000 women and asked them to complete food intake questionnaires and provide blood samples. Then, the team followed them for up to 12 years. [1]

Those who closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet had a 25% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to those who followed the diet the least closely.

The researchers uncovered the mechanisms behind this link by using the participants’ blood samples to measure previously-established and new biomarkers of heart disease and found changes in inflammation, glucose metabolism, and insulin resistance.

Ahmad said:

“The finding shows that a Mediterranean diet improves inflammation, which is quite a big risk factor for cardiovascular disease. We now also know that a major pathway through which a Mediterranean diet improves cardiovascular disease risk is through improved glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, and body adiposity [fat].”

Moreover, when the body has trouble metabolizing glucose and becomes unable to use insulin efficiently (insulin resistance), it can lead to Type 2 diabetes if left untreated. Type 2 diabetes is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The Benefits of Meds, Without the Risks

Percentage Reduction in Cardiovascular Disease Events Associated With Mediterranean Diet Explained by Potential Risk Mediators

In the study, the participants were placed into 1 of 3 categories based on their adherence to a Mediterranean diet: low, middle, and upper. Over the course of the study, 428 women in the low group, 356 women in the middle group, and 246 women in the upper group had the highest risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Based on this information, the researchers determined that women in the middle and upper group had a 23% and 28% reduced risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event, respectively, compared to women in the lower group.

The overall 25% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mimicked similar preventative effects of medication – namely aspirin and statins.

In other words, sticking to a Mediterranean diet may be just as effective as statin drugs, which are linked to more than 300 adverse events, or aspirin, which has been linked to intestinal bleeding and a higher risk of stroke.

Ironically, a study by Finnish researchers published in 2015 linked statins with a 50% increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Ahmad said:

“Statins and aspirin are routinely used medications for cardiovascular disease prevention. Through diet, you can reduce your risk as comparably as through medications.

It’s even possible that a Mediterranean diet works better than statins at reducing cardiovascular risks. In 2016, a study revealed that people with a history of heart attacks, strokes, and blocked arteries were 37% less likely to die during the study if they adhered to a Mediterranean diet. In past studies, statins were shown to reduce the risk of heart problems by 24%.

Although the study only looked at women, Ahmad said the findings could be generalized and also applied to men, since past studies reached similar conclusions in both men and women.

He said:

“It’s very clear, for the first time in a large-scale, epidemiological study, that we showed that Mediterranean diet improves cardiovascular disease risk by 25%, but also improves underlying biomarkers, which is really great.”

The study was not free of limitations, however. For starters, the research relied on self-reported data, which can be inaccurate, particularly when it comes to food intake. Additionally, the women in the study were medical professionals, so it’s possible they led a healthier lifestyle compared to the rest of the population. [2]

But as I said earlier, there is a ton of data which suggests that eating a Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest eating patterns you can adopt.

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Sources:

[1] Everyday Health

[2] NBC News

Study: To Ease Psoriasis, Try Eating a Mediterranean Diet

In a study of more than 3,500 individuals with psoriasis, adopting a healthier diet was associated with an improvement in their symptoms – particularly a Mediterranean diet. [1]

In fact, the closer someone adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the less burdensome their psoriasis became, regardless of whether or not the individual was obese.

A Little About Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a non-contagious chronic skin condition that causes a thick, patchy, red rash with silvery, white scales. The most common type of the disease is known as plaque psoriasis. [2]

The telltale patches can show up anywhere on the body, but they most commonly appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, and lower back.

Psoriasis occurs most commonly in adults, though children can also be diagnosed with it.

Scientists aren’t sure what causes the skin condition, but it is believed to be caused by a problem with the immune system.

When someone has psoriasis, their immune system mistakenly attacks healthy skin cells as if it was fighting an infection. In people who don’t have the condition, the body makes new skin cells about every 4 weeks. However, psoriasis causes the body to create new skin cells every few days, resulting in the itchy and sometimes painful patches.

Psoriasis can be triggered by any number of things, but it is most commonly triggered by skin injury or infection; emotional stress; certain medications; smoking; and drinking alcohol.

The immune disorder affects some 6.7 million U.S. adults and is more likely to affect people with obesity and metabolic syndrome. [3]

Now the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, fish, olive oil, and nuts. Red meat, dairy, and alcohol may be consumed in light moderation. It is considered one of the most “heart-healthy” diets you can adopt and comes highly recommended by health groups, such as the American Heart Association (AHA). [1]

Read: Study: A Mediterranean Diet Beats Statins for People with Heart Disease

Apart from heart health, the Mediterranean diet is associated with a long list of other health benefits. Based on the study’s findings, fighting immune-system disorders could possibly be added to that list.

Dr. Scott Flugman, a dermatologist at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in Huntington, New York, said:

“If this finding is confirmed by further studies, it would lead to a significant change in the way dermatologists manage psoriasis, as it would mean that even a patient who is not overweight could improve their psoriasis through dietary modifications.”

The Study

For the study, researchers analyzed 35,735  participants’ answers to a web-based questionnaire. Of that number, 3,557 had psoriasis, and 878 of them described their symptoms as severe. [3]

The scientists assessed the participants’ dietary practices using a MEDI-LITE score ranging from 0 (no adherence) to 18 (maximum adherence).

The authors found a direct correlation between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and the severity of the participants’ psoriasis symptoms.

Read: Olive Oil for Health – Cancer Prevention, Promotes Gut Health, and More

They wrote:

“Patients with severe psoriasis displayed low levels of adherence to the Mediterranean diet.”

Study leader Dr. Céline Phan, from the Hôpital Mondor in Créteil, France, remarked:

“This finding supports the hypothesis that the Mediterranean diet may slow the progression of psoriasis. If these findings are confirmed, adherence to a Mediterranean diet should be integrated into the routine management of moderate to severe psoriasis.”

Study Strengths and Limitations

Some of the strengths of the study include:

  • The extensive nature of the questionnaire, which strengthens the results
  • The dietary intake was assessed as highly accurate by using a minimum of 3 food surveys.

The study was limited by:

  • The fact that all of the participants were volunteers, which makes it harder to generalize the results to a broader population. It’s important to point out that people who volunteer for medical studies tend to be more worried about their health than the general population.
  • The study was observational and cannot prove causality.

The authors concluded:

“Further prospective observational studies and randomized clinical trials are needed to confirm these results, and experimental data are needed to establish the mechanistic links between psoriasis and diet.”

The findings are published in JAMA Dermatology.

Sources:

[1] HealthDay

[2] WebMD

[3] Medical News Today

A Mediterranean Diet Can Lower Stroke Risk – Especially in Women

A Mediterranean diet, one of the healthiest eating patterns in the world, can lower the risk of stroke, especially in women, according to a new study. [1]

Men didn’t reap the same benefits from this widely-accepted healthy diet, which emphasizes consumption of fish, nuts, fruit and vegetables, and beans, and limits red meat and dairy products.

Lead researcher Dr. Phyo Myint, a clinical chair of medicine at the University of Aberdeen School of Medicine in Scotland, said:

“Simple changes in dietary habits may bring a substantial benefit regarding reducing stroke, which remains one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide.”

But the study couldn’t determine if there is a causal relationship between a Mediterranean diet and lower stroke risk. Furthermore, the researchers can’t pinpoint why the cardiovascular health of women, but not men, benefited from a Mediterranean diet.

According to Myint, “it is widely acknowledged that men and women are very different with regard to normal physiology.”

Women face unique stroke risks that men never have to worry about, including oral contraceptive use and hormone replacement therapy. Moreover, pregnant women who develop preeclampsia or gestational diabetes face a higher risk of stroke.

Myint said:

“It may be that certain components in the Mediterranean diet may influence risk of stroke in women more than men.”

For example, a study published in 2015 showed that those who followed the notoriously-healthy diet with an additional 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil were 62% less likely to develop malignant breast cancer, compared with those who consumed the study’s control diet.

In 2013, a study involving a cohort comprised of 57% women revealed that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events, including stroke.

What this Recent Study Has to Say

For the new study, researchers collected data on more than 23,000 men women between the ages of 40 and 77, who participated in a large cancer study. The subjects were followed for 17 years.

During the 17-years of follow-up, 2,009 strokes occurred. [2]

The team controlled for age, body mass index (BMI), physical activity, smoking, vascular diseases, blood pressure, and other variables that contribute to stroke risk.

Overall, those who followed a Mediterranean diet reduced their stroke risk by 17%. But when the results were broken down by sex, Myint and his colleagues found that women cut their stroke risk by 22%, while men only saw a 6% decline. [1]

The scientists said there is a chance that the risk was so small among men that it might have been a “chance” finding. But it should be noted that the women in the study adhered to a Mediterranean diet more closely than men, according to the team. [1] [2]

When it came to participants who had a high risk of stroke, consuming a Mediterranean diet lowered their risk by 13%. However, the researchers found that the association was primarily due to a 20% reduction in risk among women. [1]

There is evidence to suggest that a Mediterranean diet beats statin drugs for lowering cholesterol in people with heart disease. What’s more, research shows that the dietary lifestyle coupled with low carbs reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes, which is a risk factor for stroke.

The authors concluded:

“We found that the overall Mediterranean-style diet was more strongly protective for risk of stroke than the individual types of foods that form this type of healthy eating style. The benefits of eating a Mediterranean-style diet resulted from the combined effects of following a diet high in fish, fruits, vegetables, cereal foods, and potatoes, and lower in meat and dairy foods.”

The study is published in the journal Stroke.

Sources:

[1] HealthDay

[2] MedPage Today