Eating a Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of dementia, according to new research involving the University of East Anglia.
A new study published today shows that people who consume a diet rich in foods such as seafood, fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and nuts had up to 23 per cent lower risk for dementia, compared with those who had lower adherence to a Mediterranean diet.
Previous studies exploring the impact of a Mediterranean diet have typically been limited to small sample sizes and low numbers of dementia cases.
But the new study, led by researchers at the University of Newcastle, analyses data from more than 60,000 people and is thought to be the largest of its kind.
The research team say that following a Mediterranean diet could help prevent dementia, and that even small lifestyle changes can make a big difference.
Prof Anne-Marie Minihane, from UEA's Norwich Medical School and director of the Norwich Institute of Healthy Ageing, said: “This large-scale analysis builds on evidence we have been accumulating over recent years, which shows the large association between consuming a whole plant food rich diet and long-term brain health.
“A Mediterranean-style diet is comparable to a healthy UK diet rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and fish, with limited intake of red meat products, sugar-rich foods and ultra-processed foods.
“This research shows us that diet may be an important modifiable risk factor for dementia that could be targeted for disease prevention and risk reduction.
“Even small changes can make a big difference,” she added.
The new study analyses data from 60,298 people from the UK Biobank - a long-term project investigating the contributions of genetic predisposition and environmental exposure to the development of disease.
Participants completed a dietary assessment and were scored using two measures for adherence to the Mediterranean diet.
During the mean follow-up of 9.1 years there were 882 cases of dementia.
The research team also considered each individual’s genetic risk for dementia by estimating their polygenic risk - a measure of all the different genes that are related to risk of dementia.
The authors caution that their analysis is limited to individuals who self-reported their ethnic background as white, British or Irish, as genetic data was only available based on European ancestry, and that further research is needed in a range of populations to determine the potential benefit.
They conclude that a Mediterranean diet that has a high intake of healthy plant-based foods may be an important intervention to incorporate into future strategies to reduce dementia risk.
‘Mediterranean diet adherence is associated with lower dementia risk, independent of genetic predisposition: findings from the UK Biobank prospective cohort study’ is published in the journal BMC Medicine.