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Mediterranean diet may protect cognitive function in older patients

Following a Mediterranean-style diet high in olive oil, nuts and fruits may boost brain power in older people compared with a low-fat regime.

Research published online in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry suggests that following such a diet, with some fish and seafood and low amounts of dairy and red meat, may prolong cognitive function.

Researchers from the University of Navarra in Spain examined 522 men and women aged between 55 and 80 over a period of years - the first long term trial of its type. All of the participants were without cardiovascular disease but at high vascular risk because of underlying disease/conditions.

The men and women were randomly allocated either a Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet, which is typically recommended to prevent heart attack or stroke.

The Mediterranean diet also includes vegetables, pulses and a moderate intake of red wine.

After an average of 6.5 years, the rate of the participants’ cognitive decline was assessed using a Mini Mental State Exam and a clock drawing test.

Those who followed the Mediterranean diets returned scores for both tests which on average were higher than those on the low fat option.

In the report, the authors admitted that the group sample size was not particularly big and the results may not apply to the general population because the group studied had a high vascular risk.

But the report says the evidence adds to the theory that a high-quality dietary pattern seems to protect cognitive function in the ageing brain.

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