A new research by the University of Exeter’s Medical School in UK found that eating a Mediterranean diet is good for the mind.
Scientists say people who eat large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil have a lower risk of age-related diseases such as dementia.
The research is the first systematic review of previous studies into the Mediterranean diet’s benefits to the brain.
It comes after research last month showed the same diet could help counteract a genetic risk of strokes.
The team, supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula, analyzed 12 eligible pieces of research, 11 observational studies and one randomized control trial.
Eating a Mediterranean diet is good for the mind
In nine of the 12 studies, a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with better cognitive function, lower rates of cognitive decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
However, results for mild cognitive impairment – the stage before Alzheimer’s or dementia, when someone could be experiencing some cognitive difficulties – were inconsistent.
Lead researcher Iliana Lourida said: “Mediterranean food is both delicious and nutritious, and our systematic review shows it may help to protect the ageing brain by reducing the risk of dementia.
“While the link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and dementia risk is not new, ours is the first study to systematically analyze all existing evidence.”
Dr. Iliana Lourida added: “Our review also highlights inconsistencies in the literature and the need for further research. In particular research is needed to clarify the association with mild cognitive impairment and vascular dementia.
“It is also important to note that while observational studies provide suggestive evidence we now need randomized, controlled trials to confirm whether or not adherence to a Mediterranean diet protects against dementia.”
Researchers have uncovered the first evidence that blood pressure drugs, called ACE inhibitors, may actually boost brainpower, as doctors have long recognized that taking the drugs may slow the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Those with high blood pressure are more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s and similar diseases, but the study found their memory and thinking skills were protected by the drugs they were taking.
ACE inhibitors – whose names include ramipril, captopril and perindopril – have become increasingly popular in the past ten years, particularly for younger patients.
Researchers in Ireland and Canada investigated drugs which target a specific biochemical pathway called the renin angiotensin system – a hormone system which is thought to affect the development of Alzheimer’s.
The study compared the rate of cognitive decline in 361 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia (caused by problems in blood supply to the brain), or a mix of both. Of that group, 85 were already taking ACE inhibitors; the rest were not.
Doctors have long recognized that taking ACE inhibitors may slow the onset of Alzheimer’s
The researchers also analyzed the impact on 30 patients, with an average age of 77 years, who were taking the drugs for the first time.
They were assessed over six months, using the Standardized Mini Mental State Examination or the Quick Mild Cognitive Impairment tests.
Those taking ACE inhibitors experienced marginally slower rates of cognitive decline than those who were not, found the study in the journal BMJ Open.
Meanwhile, the brainpower of those patients who had been newly prescribed ACE inhibitors actually improved, the experts from University College Cork in Ireland and McMaster University in Ontario, Canada found.
It is the first evidence to suggest these drugs may not only halt cognitive decline, but may actually improve brainpower.
The researchers said: “Although the differences were small and of uncertain clinical significance, if sustained over years, compounding effects may well have significant clinical benefits.”
They warn that ACE inhibitors are harmful to some patients, so if larger studies confirm they work well in dementia, it may be only certain people with high blood pressure who stand to benefit.
Previous studies have linked other forms of blood pressure medication with anti-dementia benefits.
Among the most widely used ACE inhibitors are perindopril (also known as Coversyl), ramipril (Tritace), captopril (Capoten), trandolapril (Gopten), fosinopril (Staril), lisinopril (Zestril and prinivil).
They work by stopping the body from creating the hormone angiotensin II. This has a variety of effects but essentially relaxes blood vessels and helps reduce the amount of water re-absorbed by the kidneys – helping decrease blood pressure.
A new study suggests that keeping mentally active by reading books or writing letters helps protect the brain in old age.
A lifetime of mental challenges leads to slower cognitive decline after factoring out dementia’s impact on the brain, US researchers say.
The study, published in Neurology, adds weight to the idea that dementia onset can be delayed by lifestyle factors.
An Alzheimer’s charity said the best way to lower dementia risk was to eat a balanced diet, exercise and stay slim.
In a US study, 294 people over the age of 55 were given tests that measured memory and thinking, every year for about six years until their deaths.
Keeping mentally active by reading books or writing letters helps protect the brain in old age
They also answered a questionnaire about whether they read books, wrote letters and took part in other activities linked to mental stimulation during childhood, adolescence, middle age, and in later life.
After death, their brains were examined for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, such as brain lesions and plaques.
The study found that after factoring out the impact of those signs, those who had a record of keeping the brain busy had a rate of cognitive decline estimated at 15% slower than those who did not.
Dr. Robert Wilson, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who led the study, said the research suggested exercising the brain across a lifetime was important for brain health in old age.
He said: “The brain that we have in old age depends in part on what we habitually ask it to do in life.
“What you do during your lifetime has a great impact on the likelihood these age-related diseases are going to be expressed.”
According to researchers at King’s College London, smoking “rots” the brain by damaging memory, learning and reasoning.
A study of 8,800 people over 50 showed high blood pressure and being overweight also seemed to affect the brain, but to a lesser extent.
Scientists involved said people needed to be aware that lifestyles could damage the mind as well as the body.
Their study was published in the journal Age and Ageing.
Researchers at King’s College London were investigating links between the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke and the state of the brain.
Data about the health and lifestyle of a group of over-50s was collected and brain tests, such as making participants learn new words or name as many animals as they could in a minute, were also performed.
They were all tested again after four and then eight years.
Researchers at the King’s College London found that smoking rots the brain by damaging memory, learning and reasoning
The results showed that the overall risk of a heart attack or stroke was “significantly associated with cognitive decline” with those at the highest risk showing the greatest decline.
It also said there was a “consistent association” between smoking and lower scores in the tests.
One of the researchers, Dr. Alex Dregan, said: “Cognitive decline becomes more common with ageing and for an increasing number of people interferes with daily functioning and well-being.
“We have identified a number of risk factors which could be associated with accelerated cognitive decline, all of which, could be modifiable.”
He added: “We need to make people aware of the need to do some lifestyle changes because of the risk of cognitive decline.”
The researchers do not know how such a decline could affect people going about their daily life. They are also unsure whether the early drop in brain function could lead to conditions such as dementia.
A new study has revealed that some of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease have been found in the brain, more than two decades before the first symptoms usually appear.
Treating the disease early is thought to be vital in order to prevent damage to memory and thinking.
A study, published in the Lancet Neurology, found differences in the brains of people destined to develop an early form of Alzheimer’s.
Experts said the US study may give doctors more time to treat people.
Alzheimer’s disease starts long before anyone would notice; previous studies have shown an effect on the brain 10-15 years before symptoms.
It is only after enough brain cells have died that the signs of dementia begin to appear – some regions of the brain will have lost up to 20% of their brain cells before the disease becomes noticeable.
However, doctors fear so much of the brain will have degenerated by this time that it will be too late to treat patients. The failure of recent trials to prevent further cognitive decline in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease has been partly put down to timing.
A team at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Arizona looked at a group of patients who have familial Alzheimer’s. A genetic mutation means they nearly always get the disease in their 40s. Alzheimer’s normally becomes apparent after the age of 75.
Brain scans of 20 people with the mutation, aged between 18 and 26, already showed differences compared with those from 24 people who were not destined to develop early Alzheimer’s.
The fluid which bathes the brain and spinal cord also had higher levels of a protein called beta-amyloid.
The researchers said differences could be detected “more than two decades before” symptoms would appear in these high-risk patients.
Dr. Eric Reiman, one of the scientists involved, said: “These findings suggest that brain changes begin many years before the clinical onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
“They raise new questions about the earliest brain changes involved in the predisposition to Alzheimer’s and the extent to which they could be targeted by future prevention therapies.”
Prof. Nick Fox, from the Institute of Neurology at University College London, said some of his patients had lost a fifth of some parts of their brain by the time they arrived at the clinic.
He said: “I don’t think this pushes us forwards in terms of early diagnosis, we already have markers of the disease.
“The key thing this does is open up the window of early intervention before people take a clinical and cognitive hit.”
However, he said this raised the question of how early people would need to be treated – if drugs could be found.
Being overweight is not just bad for your waistline but for your brain too, say researchers who have linked obesity to declining mental performance.
Experts are not sure why this might be, but say metabolic changes such as high blood sugar and raised cholesterol are likely to be involved.
Obesity has already been tipped as a risk factor for dementia.
The work, published in Neurology, tracked the health of more than 6,000 British people over a decade.
The participants, who were aged between 35 and 55, took tests on memory and other cognitive skills three times over a 10-year period.
People who were both obese and who had unhealthy metabolic changes showed a much faster decline on their cognitive test scores compared to others in the study.
Being overweight is not just bad for your waistline but for your brain too
The experts stress that they only looked at cognitive function, not dementia.
The boundary between normal ageing, mild cognitive impairment and dementia is blurred – not all impairment leads to dementia.
All of the study participants came from one group of civil service workers, which may mean the findings may not apply more generally to other populations.
They said: “More research is needed to look at the effects of genetic factors and also to take into account how long people have been obese and how long they have had these metabolic risk factors and also to look at cognitive test scores spanning adulthood to give us a better understanding of the link between obesity and cognitive function, such as thinking, reasoning and memory.”
Shirley Cramer of the Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “We do not yet know why obesity and metabolic abnormality are linked to poorer brain performance, but with obesity levels on the rise, it will be important to delve a little deeper into this association.
“While the study itself focuses on cognitive decline, previous research suggests that a healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol in midlife can also help stave off dementia. With dementia figures spiralling towards a million, the findings suggest we should be conscious of our general health throughout life.”