Eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids
and low in saturated fats, meats and dairy products may be linked to preserving memory and cognitive abilities in most people, though the association was not discovered in people with diabetes, according to research published Tuesday in the journal Neurology
The research used dietary information from more than 17,400 Caucasian and African-American people with an average age of 64 and was analyzed to determine how closely they followed the Mediterranean diet
– a diet based on the culinary patterns of southern Italy, Greece, and Spain.
The Mediterranean diet features relatively high consumption of foods such as legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, and vegetables; moderate to high consumption of fish; moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt) and low consumption of meat and meat products.
Each study participant was given examinations that measured memory and cognitive ability over an average of four years. Seventeen percent of the subjects were diabetic, and seven percent developed impairments in their thinking and memory skills during the study.
The researchers discovered in healthy people who closely followed the specialized eating plan, 19 percent were less likely to develop problems with their thinking and memory skills. No significant difference in declines were seen between African-Americans and Caucasians. They also reported following the Mediterranean diet was not associated with a lower risk of cognitive or memory problems in people with diabetes.
“Since there are no definitive treatments for most dementing illnesses, modifiable activities, such as diet, that may delay the onset of symptoms of dementia are very important,” Dr. Georgios Tsivgoulis, a neurologist with both the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB
) and the University of Athens, Greece, said in a statement.
“Diet is an important modifiable activity that could help in preserving cognitive functioning in late life,” added Tsivgoulis, who is also a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “However, it is only one of several important lifestyle activities that might play a role in late-life mental functioning. Exercise, avoiding obesity, not smoking cigarettes and taking medications for conditions like diabetes and hypertension are also important.”