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Mediterranean diet could boost memory

May 2, 2013

Chances are you've heard about the role the Mediterranean diet - which focuses on fish, olive oil and fruits - plays in healthy aging. Experts say adherence to the diet can help maintain strong bones and cardiovascular well-being, and new research suggests that embracing this regional meal plan may also improve your memory, according to scientists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the University of Athens.

To measure the impact of the Mediterranean diet on memory, the research team analyzed data from more than 17,400 people with an average age of 64. Over the course of several years, participants were asked to track how closely they followed the diet while scientists administered tests meant to assess their memory. Researchers discovered that the healthy subjects who adhered to the diet were about 19 percent less likely to encounter problems with memory or thinking skills. 

"Diet is an important modifiable activity that could help in preserving cognitive functioning in late life," said Dr. Georgios Tsivgoulis, a neurologist at UAB. "However, it is only one of several important lifestyle activities that might play a role in late-life mental functioning. Exercise, avoiding obesity, not smoking cigarettes and taking medications for conditions like diabetes and hypertension are also important."

Given that mild cognitive impairment - often seen as a precursor to Alzheimer's disease and dementia - affects an estimated 10 to 20 percent of adults 65 and older, these findings may be particularly substantial. The Mediterranean diet includes more than just a focus on fruits, olive oil and fish - it's also about what you don't eat. According to the Mayo Clinic, the lifestyle places an emphasis on reducing red meat and dairy consumption.