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Extensive review confirms mental health benefits of Mediterranean diet

September 5, 2013

The Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil and fish, has been shown to offer a host of benefits, especially as it relates to healthy aging. A recent review of previously existing research found compelling evidence that following the Mediterranean diet may not only improve seniors' brain function, but it could help them lower their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, according to findings published in the journal Epidemiology. 

First review of its kind
Performed by researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in the U.K., the review was the first to look at the previously conducted studies assessing the mental health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Specifically, the team looked at 12 pieces of research, and in nine of the studies, there was evidence that adhering to the diet resulted in better cognitive function. Although the review's authors point out that this is not the first time the scientific community has found the link between the Mediterranean diet and brain function, they note that corroborating previous findings strengthens the proof of this relationship.

"Mediterranean food is both delicious and nutritious, and our systematic review shows it may help to protect the aging brain by reducing the risk of dementia," said lead researcher Iliana Lourida. "While the link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and dementia risk is not new, ours is the first study to systematically analyze all existing evidence."

Some limitations
The review confirmed a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia, but when it came to mild cognitive impairment - memory loss that's often more severe than typical age-related forgetfulness - the evidence was less clear. Luckily, there are some other steps seniors can take to maintain their mental acuity and lower their chances of encountering mild cognitive impairment as they get older.

Intellectual stimulation is often regarded as one of the best ways to avoid MCI, according to the Mayo Clinic. Whether it is in the form of volunteering, continuing education or simply reading the newspaper every morning, any activity that keeps the mind limber is sure to pay off. In a similar vein, social interaction - a hallmark of a healthy lifestyle for seniors - can help preserve brain function.