In an examination of the association between adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet and cognitive performance and risk of dementia, researchers found that high adherence to the diet was associated with slower decline in some measures of cognitive function but was not associated with decreased risk for dementia, according to a study in the August 12 issue of JAMA.
Higher adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet is linked to lower risk for mortality and chronic diseases, and "might also have protective effects against cognitive decline in older individuals, because it combines several foods and nutrients potentially protective against cognitive dysfunction or dementia, such as fish, monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamins B12 and folate, antioxidants (vitamin E, carotenoids, flavonoids), and moderate amounts of alcohol," the authors write. But its association with cognitive decline has been unclear.
Catherine Féart, Ph.D., of the Université Victor Ségalen Bordeaux 2, Bordeaux, France, and colleagues examined whether adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with change in cognitive performance and with lower risk of all-cause dementia or Alzheimer disease. The study included 1,410 individuals (age 65 years or older) from Bordeaux, France, who were part of the Three-City cohort in 2001-2002 (a study of vascular risk factors of dementia) and were re-examined at least once over 5 years. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet (scored as 0 to 9) was computed from a food frequency questionnaire and 24-hour recall.
Cognitive performance was assessed on 4 neuropsychological tests: the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), Isaacs Set Test (IST), Benton Visual Retention Test (BVRT), and Free and Cued Selective Reminding Test (FCSRT). New cases of dementia (n = 99) were validated by an independent expert committee of neurologists.
After adjusting for age, sex, education, marital status, energy intake, physical activity, depressive symptomatology, taking 5 medications/day or more, apolipoprotein E genotype, cardiovascular risk factors, and stroke, the researchers found that higher Mediterranean diet score was associated with fewer MMSE errors. But performance on the IST, BVRT, or FCSRT over time was not significantly associated with Mediterranean diet adherence, especially in those who remained free from dementia over 5 years. Mediterranean diet adherence was not associated with the risk for incident dementia, although the statistical strength of the data to detect a difference was limited.
"The Mediterranean diet pattern probably does not fully explain the better health of persons who adhere to it, but it may contribute directly. A Mediterranean diet also may indirectly constitute an indicator of a complex set of favorable social and lifestyle factors that contribute to better health. Further research is needed to allow the generalization of these results to other populations and to establish whether a Mediterranean diet slows cognitive decline or reduces incident dementia in addition to its cardiovascular benefits," the authors conclude.