Researchers at the National Eye Institute (NEI) have discovered that a healthy diet reduces the risk of cognitive decline. In particular, the experts found a strong link between the Mediterranean diet and higher brain function.
Study lead author Dr. Emily Chew is the director of the NEI Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications.
“We do not always pay attention to our diets. We need to explore how nutrition affects the brain and the eye,” said Dr. Chew.
The Mediterranean diet is known for having an extensive list of protective health benefits, ranging from heart disease and cancer prevention to increased longevity.
The NEI researchers set out to investigate the potential cognitive benefits of the Mediterranean diet. They zeroed in on the effects of nine specific components of the diet, including vegetables, whole grains, fish, legumes, nuts, fruits, olive oil, and reduced meat and alcohol consumption.
For the investigation, the researchers analyzed data from two major studies on eye disease, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and AREDS2. These were designed to analyze the effect of vitamins on age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which damages the light-sensitive retina.
Overall, more than 8,000 participants were involved in the AREDS and AREDS2 studies, including a majority of individuals with AMD. The participants reported annually on their average consumption of each Mediterranean diet component, and cognitive function was assessed at different intervals between two and ten years later.
The experts discovered that participants with the greatest adherence to the Mediterranean diet had the lowest risk of cognitive impairment. The greatest protective effects were associated with high fish and vegetable consumption.
After 10 years, individuals with the highest levels of fish consumption were found to have the slowest rate of cognitive decline.
The study is published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.