Mediterranean Diet Could Lower Risk of Brain Damage, Study Suggests

I was driving home this week listening to NPR when my ears perked up. A reporter was talking about a study suggesting a Mediterranean diet – rich in olive oil, fruits and vegetables – could prevent strokes that otherwise lead to brain damage.

iStockphoto“This is the first study looking at the connection between diet, dementia and the small strokes that can cause dementia,” NPR reporter Patty Neighmond said over the radio as I was driving.

Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center found that people who eat a Mediterranean diet suffer fewer small strokes than people who follow a more traditional Western diet. Those small strokes – which typically go unnoticed – can cause brain damage, leading to thinking and memory problems such as dementia as well as loss of balance.

The researchers studied the diets of 712 people in New York above age 65. They were divided into three groups based on how closely they followed the Mediterranean diet. The researchers conducted MRI brain scans of the people about six years later to look for small areas of dead tissue called brain infarcts. A total of 238 people had at least one area of brain damage.

Those who most closely followed a Mediterranean-like diet were 36% less likely to have areas of brain damage than those who were least following the diet. Those moderately following the diet were 21% less likely to have brain damage than the lowest group.

“In this study, not eating a Mediterranean-like diet had about the same (negative) effect on the brain as having high blood pressure,” said study author Nikolaos Scarmeas of Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

Scarmeas speculates the Mediterranean diet somehow protects the blood vessels, reducing plaque and clotting.

“That makes sense because cardiologists have long known that diets high in fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil, essentially the Mediterranean diet, benefit the heart,” NPR’s Patty Neighmond noted in her report.

Previous research by Scarmeas and his colleagues suggested that a Mediterranean-like diet may be associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and may lengthen survival in people with Alzheimer’s.

Bon appétit,

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch