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The Mediterranean Diet and Cognitive Decline


The Mediterranean diet, it may have broad health benefits [let’s face it we can’t seem to escape the push for it here in the US], but a new study suggests that it doesn’t impart the same health benefits for everyone. In fact, new research shows that its impact on cognitive decline differs among race-specific populations.

The team of researchers, analyzed an NIH/NIA  prospective cohort study [Health ABC named by a guy who couldn’t get over the alphabet obviously] conducted over eight years in the U.S. to measure the effects of adherence to a Mediterranean diet. A diet which made a huge splash and for the most part offers some healthy guidelines for living.

[Loony Hint: for those who didn’t click the link the NIH and NIA are two organizations, the National institute of health and the National institute on Aging, both do research on exactly what the name suggests they do.]

Keep in mind that, from a scientific standpoint, a diet is just what people eat. When we say diet, don’t think hit the treadmill or starve yourself — please don’t ever try to starve yourself thin — think of it as just what you eat day to day without doing anything special.

The Mediterranean-style diet [or since scientists love to shorten things MedDiet] has fewer meat products, more plant-based foods, and monounsaturated fatty acids from olive and canola oil [which current science has suggested to be the good kind of fats] than a typical American diet. But really, if we are being honest the typical American diet consists of cheese and anything we can throw cheese on, bonus points if we can find a way to deep fry it too.

To assess the association between Mediterranean diet score and brain function, the researchers used data of several Modified Mini-Mental State Examinations [or 3MS, see they like to shorten things] on 2,326 participating older adults [ranging from 70-79].  The 3MS is an extensively used and validated instrument designed to measure several cognitive domains to screen for cognitive impairment and commonly used to screen for dementia.

“In a population of initially well-functioning older adults, we found a significant correlation between strong adherence to the Mediterranean diet and a slower rate of cognitive decline among African American, but not white, older adults. Our study is the first to show a possible race-specific association between the Mediterranean diet and cognitive decline,” said Prof. Danit R. Shahar, one of the researchers on the project

The team notes that further studies in diverse populations are necessary to confirm association between the Mediterranean diet and cognitive decline, and to pinpoint factors that may explain these results. The likely culprit of course is genetic, but the team hopes to find other metabolic factors that play a role in the cognitive health decline.

I guess what they say is true, but only to a point. You may “be what you eat”, but your genes still control the show.


Not enough food for thought? You can find the full study —here!

Koyama, A., Houston, D., Simonsick, E., Lee, J., Ayonayon, H., Shahar, D., Rosano, C., Satterfield, S., & Yaffe, K. (2014). Association Between the Mediterranean Diet and Cognitive Decline in a Biracial Population The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences DOI: 10.1093/gerona/glu097

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