(NaturalNews) A Mediterranean diet may significantly decrease the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center and published in the journal Archives of Neurology.
"We know from previous research that a healthy diet like this is protective for cardiovascular risk factors like cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes," said researcher Nikolaos Scarmeas. "Now this current study shows it may help brain function too."
The term "Mediterranean diet" refers to a diet high in vegetables, legumes, fish and monounsaturated fat sources such as olive oil, and low in saturated fats, meat and dairy. Interest in the Mediterranean diet began when health researchers noted that the traditional diet of parts of Greece and Italy was as high in fat as the U.S. diet, but rates of heart disease were much lower. More recent research has suggested that the diet can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
In the current study, researchers examined the effect of the diet on the risk of borderline dementia, also known as mild cognitive impairment -- a precursor and risk factor for full-blown dementia such as Alzheimer's disease. They interviewed 482 borderline dementia patients and 1,393 healthy volunteers about their dietary habits, then followed them all for an average of 4.5 years.
At the end of the study, 275 participants from the healthy group had developed borderline dementia. The one-third of participants with the greatest adherence to the Mediterranean diet were 28 percent less likely to develop borderline dementia than the third with the lowest adherence; the one-third in the middle was 17 percent less likely to develop the disorder than the bottom third.
Likewise, the Mediterranean diet appeared to protect patients with borderline dementia from developing Alzheimer's disease. The one-third of borderline dementia participants with the greatest Mediterranean diet adherence was 48 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than the one-third with the lowest compliance.
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