Mediterranean Diet May Be Good for Your Brain, Too, Study Suggests

Here’s food for thought. Not only may the Mediterranean diet be good for your heart. But it also may be good for your brain, a study in this month’s issue of the Archives of Neurology suggests.

Researchers found that a Mediterranean diet – rich in fresh vegetables and fruit, lean proteins, whole grains and olive oil – may guard against blood-vessel damage in the brain, lowering the risks of stroke and memory loss. The study also suggested that monounsatured fat, found in olive oil, may play a key role.  Researchers at the University of Miami in Florida and Columbia University in New York led the effort.

“The current study suggests a possible protective association between increased consumption of a (Mediterranean diet) and small vessel damage,” Clinton Wright, an author of the study and an associate professor at Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, said in a news release.

The study is the first to examine the impact of a Mediterranean diet on the brain’s small blood vessels. Previous studies have suggested eating a Mediterranean-style diet can lead to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. (Click here to see our eNewsletter showcasing Mediterranean cuisine and recipes.)

In the new study, researchers studied food questionnaires filled out by 966 participants in an ongoing study known as the Northern Manhattan Study. The participants were sorted by how strongly they adhered to a Mediterranean diet. Researchers used MRI scans to determine small blood vessel damage in the brain, as indicated by so-called white matter hyperintensities. The WMHs are considered “markers” of chronic small vessel damage.

The study suggested a “lower burden” of white-matter volume (WMHV) among those participants who adhered more to a Mediterranean diet. Moreover, researchers found those who consumed more monounsaturated fat, found in olive oil, had lower volumes of WMHs.

“The associations with WMHV may be driven by the favorable ratio of monounsaturated fat consumption over saturated fat,” Wright said. But he added that the results “suggest that the overall dietary pattern, rather than any of the individual components, may be more … relevant.”

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