Mediterranean Diet May Help Reduce Risk of Cognitive Decline in Older People

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New research indicates that following a Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline in older adults. The study, published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, provides new insight into the biological mechanisms of diet’s influence on brain health and aging.

The investigation was led by Mireia Urpí-Sardá, PhD, an adjunct lecturer and member of the Biomarkers and Nutritional & Food Metabolomics research group at the University of Barcelona in Spain. Previous research exploring the connection between the risk of cognitive decline and the Mediterranean diet has been inconclusive due in part to self-reported dietary assessment. Dr. Urpí-Sardá and her colleagues sought to explore this connection further using biomarkers and metabolomics to objectively assess adherence to the Mediterranean diet and how it correlates to cognitive decline.

Part of the Joint Programming Initiative “A Healthy Diet for a Health Life” (JPI HDHL), the study spanned over twelve years and involved 840 people over 65 years of age, 65 percent of whom were women, in the Bourdeaux and Dijon regions of France.

Using the JPI HDHL data, Dr. Urpí-Sardá and her colleagues developed a dietary metabolomic index based on serum biomarkers reflecting adherence to the Mediterranean diet. These biomarkers included levels of fatty acids, polyphenol metabolites, and other phytochemicals, indicative of exposure to the diet's main food groups and their bioavailability. Large-scale quantitative metabolomic analysis of these biomarkers was conducted on participants without dementia. Cognitive function was evaluated over twelve years using five neuropsychological tests.

Findings revealed a protective link between high adherence to the Mediterranean diet, as indicated by the biomarker scores, and reduced cognitive decline in older adults. According to the study’s authors, this approach, emphasizing dietary pattern indexes based on food intake biomarkers, marks an advancement in dietary assessment methods by incorporating factors like bioavailability.

"We found that adherence to Mediterranean diet assessed by a panel of dietary biomarkers is inversely associated with long-term cognitive decline in older people,” said Abla Tor-Roca, first author of the study and predoctoral researcher at the University of Barcelona. “These results support the use of these indicators in long-term follow-up assessments to observe the health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet or other dietary patterns and, therefore, guide personalized counseling at older ages."