Evidence Mediterranean diet reduces dementia risk ‘not clear cut’

Evidence Mediterranean diet reduces dementia risk ‘not clear cut’

2022-10-21

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Who says it isn’t clear-cut?

Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) does. The charity’s Head of Research Doctor Sara Imarisio said: “The evidence for specific diets affecting dementia risk is not clear cut.

“In the coming years, it is important that more large, long-term randomised controlled trials explore the effects of different diets on dementia risk, and do so alongside brain scans, memory tests and use of different biomarkers to paint the most accurate picture possible.”

Given ARUK’s standing as a prominent dementia charity, one campaigning for a cure for the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s, these words carry a weight of their own.

The study they were responding to suggested a Mediterranean diet did little to reduce someone’s risk of dementia; the study was published in the journal Neurology earlier this year.

Participants in the study formed part of the Swedish Malmo Diet and Cancer Study (MDC). Of this group, 28,025 provided dietary information and so formed part of the research into dementia risk.

At the start of the study, which began in the late 20th Century, no one had dementia. By the end of the research in 2014, things had changed.

The scientists found that by the time the study had finished in the mid-2010s that seven percent of the 28,025 – just under 2,000, had developed dementia.

When they compared those who followed a Mediterranean diet and those who followed conventional dietary advice, they found almost no difference in risk.

On the impact of diet on dementia risk, ARUK’s doctor Imarisio said: “A growing body of research is looking at what lifestyle factors make up our risk of dementia, and diet has been frequently studied as part of this.

“This study shows that the effect of diet on dementia risk was not significant and did not reduce participant’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia. Previous research, including reviews of multiple studies, has indicated that a Mediterranean-style diet may be associated with a lower risk of dementia.

“This study recruited people in their midlife, a critical time window for modifiable risk factors to be changed in order to reduce dementia risk in later life.”

Doctor Imarisio added: “In contrast to previous studies also looking at the effect of diet on dementia risk, people involved in this research had three different measures of their dietary habits through a self-reported diary, a detailed questionnaire and an in-person interview. This can limit errors in reporting dietary habits, as it does not rely on people remembering habits from years beforehand.”

So, the study was useless?

No, a scientific study is never useless. Even the lack of profound data is useful. Furthermore, the Mediterranean diet’s inability to seemingly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s does not mean it is a pointless diet.

The BBC says: “Research into the traditional Mediterranean diet has shown it may reduce our risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are all risk factors for heart disease.

“Researchers have also found that people who closely follow a Mediterranean diet may live a longer life and be less likely to put on weight.”

What’s in the Mediterranean diet?

The diet includes a range of vegetables, fruits, beans, and cereals alongside fish, white meat, and a little dairy produce.

What this study means in the context of dementia research?

It simply forms part of the wider body of research into the search for new treatments and a potential cure for the disease.

This fight continues in laboratories and clinical trials around the world, it is a fight which continues day and night.

Dementia is one of society’s most significant foes. Every year the condition takes the lives of around 67,000 people.

To put this number into context, this is about the same number of people that can fit inside a football stadium at full capacity.

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