Photo of green olives on a branch
Researchers say this is the first study to look at the impact of a Mediterranean diet on brain health

Healthy fats help keep the brain agile

28 May, 2013

Natural Health News — Switching to a higher fat Mediterranean diet, enriched with olive oil and nuts, can boost and preserve brain power in old age more effectively than a low-fat diet, researchers claim.

In addition, say the researchers from Spain’s University of Navarra just six years of eating like the Spanish and Italians could also lower an individual’s risk of developing dementias.

Their research involved 522 men and women aged between 55 and 80 regarded as being at a high risk of heart disease, either from type-2 diabetes or a combination of factors including blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, family history and smoking.

Two groups were allocated a diet with either added olive oil or mixed nuts, while a third was told to follow the kind of low-fat diet that has become the standard recommendation to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Protecting the brain

After an average of 6.5 years, the study participants were assessed for signs of declining brain power using a range of mental tests. Of the 60 who developed signs of brain impairment – an early indicator of dementia – 23 had followed the low-fat regime, while 18 had taken olive oil and 19 were on the nut diet.

A further 35 people developed dementia – 17 of which were on the low fat diet, 12 on olive oil and six on nuts.

Those on Mediterranean diets also achieved significantly higher average scores on tests for mental agility compared to those on low fat meals.

The findings held true even when taking into account factors such as age, family history of dementia, education, exercise levels, blood vessel health and depression.

The study, published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, claims to be the first long-term trial to look at the impact of the Mediterranean diet on brain power.

Study leader Professor Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez said: “Our findings support increasing evidence on the protective effects of the Mediterranean diet on cognitive function.”

Oxidative stress has been associated with neurodegeneration, as has inflammation. The researchers suggest that extra virgin olive oil and nuts have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and, together with other polyphenol-rich foods common in the Mediterranean this can translate into improved brain health and function.