Dementia is an illness that affects 342,800 Australians right now. Unless there is a dramatic breakthrough in prevention or treatment, it is expected that within 20 years, this number will increase to around 900,000. While there hasn’t been any definitive break through or serious cure, there’s a lot invested in research around the disease – and it is beginning to pay off according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.
A study from Spain has found that a change in dietary habits can actually improve cognitive performance and one particular change has been found to correlate with a decreased risk of dementia by preventing cognitive decline. Supplementing the plant-based Mediterranean diet with antioxidant-rich extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts was associated with improved cognitive function in a study of older adults.
Lead author, Emilio Ros, M.D., Ph.D. and coauthors compared a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts with a low-fat control diet. The trial assessed 447 cognitively healthy volunteers (223 were women, average age of 67 years). Of the participants, 155 individuals were assigned to supplement a Mediterranean diet with one litre of extra virgin olive oil per week; 147 were assigned to supplement a Mediterranean diet with 30 grams per day of a mix of walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds; and 145 individuals were assigned to follow a low-fat control diet.
The authors measured cognitive change over time with a battery of neuropsychological tests and they constructed three cognitive composites for memory, frontal (attention and executive function) and global cognition. After a median of four years of the intervention, follow-up tests were available on 334 participants.
At the end of the follow-up, there were 37 cases of mild cognitive impairment: 17 (13.4 percent) in the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil group; eight (7.1 percent) in the Mediterranean diet plus nuts group; and 12 (12.6 percent) in the low-fat control group. No dementia cases were documented in patients who completed study follow-up.
The study found that individuals assigned to the low-fat control diet had a significant decrease from baseline in all composites of cognitive function. Compared with the control group, the memory composite improved significantly in the Mediterranean diet plus nuts, while the frontal and global cognition composites improved in the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil group. The authors note the changes for the two Mediterranean diet arms in each composite were more like each other than when comparing the individual Mediterranean diet groups with the low-fat diet control group.
While there is still more thorough research required that can assess the effects of diet changes in isolation and in conjunction with other lifestyle factors such as alcohol intake, exercise levels and social activities, it is a promising step. So remember to keep you head healthy as you age, enjoy olive oil and nuts as frequently as you can!
Tell us, does you diet include much olive oil or regular doses of nuts?
Some easy ways to get more into your diet include:
- Use olive oil over salads for a healthy, low fat, low sugar dressing
- Keep a small container of nuts in your handbag to munch on when you’re on the go
- Sprinkle nuts over salads for a tasty crunch
- Include olive oil in cooking rather than other types of oil