The Diet that Protects Against Alzheimer’s

Did You Know…

…the Mediterranean diet may help defend against and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease? 

The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a lower risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes, and more recent research is showing a protective benefit against Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean diet may…

  • Delay cognitive decline in older adults
  • Lower the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is the state of cognitive decline between normal age-related brain decline and the cognitive loss associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Slow the rate of MCI progression and prevent disease-related deaths
Mediterranean food in a blue dish

How the Mediterranean Diet May Help

Scientists don’t know exactly how the Mediterranean diet protects against Alzheimer’s, but there are a few theories.

First, high intakes of veggies, beans, fruit, and nuts, moderate intakes of whole grains, olive oil, and fish, and very low intakes of meat and dairy make for a balanced, heart-healthy diet that may help improve cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and blood vessel health. Experts believe that such an antioxidant-rich diet may help protect brain cells from free radical damage, increase levels of proteins in the brain that are associated with cognitive decline, and may also help prevent tissue loss from Alzheimer’s disease.

vegetables in cast iron dutch ovenBut what components of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for the brain-boosting benefits? Picking apart the elements, researchers discovered that contrary to popular opinion, fish and red wine showed no protective actions on brain health. However, vegetable consumption and the ratio of unsaturated to saturated fats did, particularly plant versus animal fats.

Studies across 11 countries validate the link between high fat intake and high Alzheimer’s risk…from the lowest fat consumption and Alzheimer’s rates in China…to the highest fat intake and Alzheimer’s incidences in the United States.

Fat and Cognitive Decline
Harvard researchers closely examined the association between fat intake and cognitive change in 6000 healthy older women over the course of 4 years. Those who ate the most saturated fat had the worse cognition and memory decline—60-70% worse odds than women with the lowest saturated fat intake!

Another study showed that the Mediterranean diet doesn’t just help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but may slow the progression of the disease once diagnosis sets in. In 5 years time, only 20% of Alzheimer’s patients who strictly followed the Mediterranean diet had passed away, compared to 40% of patients moderately following the diet, and over 50% of patients with low adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

In 10 years, 90% of patients in the group that had low adherence to the diet had died. By the end of the study, the only Alzheimer’s patients left were those who strictly followed the Mediterranean diet!

Eating the Mediterranean Way

The Mediterranean diet isn’t just about eating vegetables; it’s about eating seasonal, locally grown plant foods, enjoying your meals with good company and leisure, and increasing activity levels and overall enjoyment of life.

Increase your intake of beans, nuts, and seeds for plant-based protein, and emphasize healthy plant-based fats such as avocados and olive oil. Enjoy!