(Reuters Health) -- Following a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish and healthy fats may preserve a more youthful brain in old age, a U.S. study suggests.
Previous research has connected a Mediterranean diet to a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other degenerative brain conditions, noted lead study author Yian Gu of Columbia University in New York.
For the current study, researchers focused on elderly people with normal cognitive function to see if the diet might also be tied to losing fewer brain cells due to aging, Gu said by email.
“Among cognitively healthy older adults, we were able to detect an association between higher adherence to a Mediterranean type diet and better brain measures,” Gu said.
To understand the relationship between the diet and brain health, Gu and colleagues reviewed surveys that 674 elderly people completed about their eating habits and then examined magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains.
Compared to the people who didn’t regularly follow many aspects of the Mediterranean diet, the participants who adhered to this way of eating more often had larger total brain volume, as well as more gray and white matter.
Higher fish intake and lower meat consumption, one aspect of a Mediterranean diet, was tied to larger total gray matter volume on the brain scans.
Eating less meat was also independently associated with larger total brain volume.
Overall, the difference in brain volume between the people who followed a Mediterranean diet and those who didn’t was similar to the effect of five years of aging, the researchers conclude in the journal Neurology.
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