Eating a Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of dementia by almost a quarter, according to new research. Scientists say that seafood, fruit and nuts which are part of the diet are rich in nutrients that boosts blood flow to the brain, reducing the risk of developing the disease.
The study revealed that those who ate most were 23 per cent less likely to develop dementia, Alzheimer’s and other forms of the disease. It involved more than 60,000 Brits and is the most comprehensive of its kind as it tracked over 60s for an average of 9 years.
The participants were all members of the UK Biobank, and completed a food questionnaire and were scored after two measures for adherence. The team of scientists also looked at mutations linked to dementia, and a Mediterranean diet even seemed to benefit people carrying the APOE variant and are therefore extra vulnerable to the disease.
Dr Oliver Shannon, of Newcastle University and a corresponding author of the study, said: "These results underline the importance of dietary interventions in future prevention strategies - regardless of genetic predisposition. Preventing dementia is a global public health priority due to the enormous and growing societal cost of this condition."
The number of cases worldwide is predicted to triple by 2050 to over 150 million. But there is no cure for the disease in sight, so scientists and doctors have increased their focus on preventing the disease in the first place.
Dr Shannon said: "A key strategy to reduce incidence is the identification of modifiable risk factors that can be targeted by personalised or public health interventions.
"These modifiable risk factors, in combination with genetic risk, play a key role in determining individual risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Diet is an important modifiable risk factor for dementia that could be targeted for disease prevention and risk reduction."
While a Mediterranean diet has been proposed in the past, test results have been inconclusive until now. Dr Shannon added: "Higher adherence was associated with lower dementia risk, independent of genetic risk, underlining the importance of diet in dementia prevention interventions."
The study was limited to individuals who self-reported their ethnicity as white, British or Irish, as genetic data was only available based on European ancestry. More research is needed on different populations to determine potential benefits.
Professor David Curtis, a geneticist at University College London, said: "This observational study finds UK Biobank participants who adhere more closely to a ‘Mediterranean’ diet tend to have a moderately lower risk of developing dementia.
"However it is not clear that this does not reflect the fact that they may have a generally more healthy lifestyle. Thus, it is not clear that such a diet itself reduces dementia risk, although it is plausible that it might do so.
"In my opinion if there is an effect of diet then it is more likely to be on cardiovascular health in general and hence to impact dementia due to vascular disease rather than Alzheimer’s disease."
Dr Susan Mitchell, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: "There is a wealth of evidence that eating a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. But evidence for specific diets is much less clear cut.
"While there are no sure-fire ways to prevent dementia yet, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, along with plenty of exercise and not smoking, all contribute to good heart health, which in turn helps to protect our brain from diseases that lead to dementia."