Posted on Feb 16, 2021, 4 p.m.
While there were no differences in brain physiology found, close adherence to the Mediterranean diet resulted in higher memory and thinking test scores, according to a recent study published in Science Direct: Experimental Gerontology.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have reported finding substantive cognitive performance benefits among healthy adults aged 79+ who adhered more closely to a Mediterranean diet, as compared to those who did not.
The Mediterranean diet was characterized by following an eating pattern that limits red and processed meats in favor of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, beans, and lean cuts of meat along with fish and seafood.
The thinking/cognitive skills of more than 500 participants were tested for this study. Participants were part of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 study, did not have dementia, and were tested in areas including problem-solving, thinking speed, memory, and word knowledge. These results were cross-referenced with results from their answers to questions about their eating habits over the previous year.
Over 350 of the participants also had MRI scans conducted to gain insights into their brain structure, with no physiological links being found to a person’s diet, thinking skills, and their brain health later in life. However, it was noted that there were higher cognitive function scores among those who most closely adhered to following a Mediterranean diet even after taking into account childhood IQ, smoking history, levels of physical activity, and other health factors.
According to the researchers, while the differences were small they were statistically significant. Components of the Mediterranean diet that were reported making the most significance included green leafy vegetables and a lower intake of red and processed meats; one of the authors wrote that these two components, “might be two key food elements that contribute to the benefits of the Mediterranean-style diet.”
“In our sample, the positive relationship between a Mediterranean diet and thinking skills is not accounted for by having a healthier brain structure, as one might expect,” said Dr, Janie Corley, School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, who added, “Though it’s possible there may be other structural or functional brain correlates with this measure of diet, or associations in specific regions of the brain, rather than the whole brain, as measured here.
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