‘Mediterranean’ Diet May Cut Alzheimer’s Risk
12:00 AM ET

MONDAY, Oct. 9 (HealthDay News) — People who eat a
“Mediterranean” diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olive
oil, legumes, cereals and fish have a lower risk of developing
Alzheimer’s disease, U.S. researchers report.

“We have confirmed the association of a Mediterranean diet
with Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead researcher Dr.
Nikolaos Scarmeas, an assistant professor of neurology at Columbia
University Medical Center in New York.

This benefit does not appear to be due to the diet’s effect
on blood vessels, Scarmeas added. “The diet could be helping
avoid Alzheimer’s disease by protection from oxidative stress
or by reducing inflammation in the brain,” he said.

Another study finds that taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements
slows cognitive decline in some patients with very mild
Alzheimer’s disease. However, supplements do not appear to
affect people with more advanced cases of the disease, according to
a team of Swedish researchers.

Both reports appear in the online October issue of the

Archives of Neurology.

For the diet study, Scarmeas’s team collected data on almost
2,000 people averaging 76 years of age. Of these, 194 had developed
Alzheimer’s. The researchers analyzed each person’s diet
during the previous year and scored the diet based on how closely
it followed what’s known as the Mediterranean diet, which also
includes mild-to-moderate drinking and little intake of red meat.
Scores ranged from zero to 9. Higher scores were given for closely
following a Mediterranean diet.

People who closely followed that regimen had a significantly
lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers found. For
each additional point on the diet score, risk for Alzheimer’s
was reduced by 19 to 24 percent.

In fact, people in the top one-third of diet scores had 68
percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, compared
with people in the bottom third. In addition, people in the middle
third had a 53 percent lower risk of developing the disease.

While the jury is still out on whether a Mediterranean diet
actually protects people from developing Alzheimer’s disease,
Scarmeas believes that the other health benefits of the diet are

“It seems that this diet is [health] protective,”
Scarmeas said. “Taking into account that this diet is
protective for other conditions such as coronary heart disease,
heart attack, high blood pressure, obesity and a series of cancers,
it seems to make sense to follow this diet anyway, and the diet may
also protect from Alzheimer’s disease.”

In the second report, a team led by Dr. Yvonne Freund-Levi from
the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, looked at the effects of
omega-3 fatty acids supplements on 204 patients with
Alzheimer’s disease.

After six months, among the 174 people who completed the trial,
the researchers found no difference in cognitive decline among
people taking omega-3 fatty acids supplements at different doses or

However, for a subgroup of 32 patients with very mild cognitive
impairment at the beginning of the study, those taking the
supplements experienced less cognitive decline compared with those
who took placebo, the researchers found.

And when patients who took placebo during the first six months
were given omega-3 fatty acids supplements, their cognitive decline
decreased during the second six months of the trial.

“The mechanisms by which omega-3 fatty acids could
interfere in Alzheimer’s disease pathophysiologic features are
not clear, but since anti-inflammatory effects are an important
part of the profile of fish oils, they are conceivable also for
Alzheimer’s disease,” the researchers write. “It is
possible that when the disease is clinically apparent, the
neuropathologic involvement is too advanced to be substantially
attenuated by anti-inflammatory treatment.”

One expert said that, given the other health benefits of fish
oil, it certainly can’t hurt patients to take supplements.

“I am happy to tell people that if they want to reduce
their risk for Alzheimer’s, they should reduce their
cardiovascular disease risk factors and take fish oil,” said
Greg M. Cole, a neuroscientist at the Greater Los Angeles VA
Healthcare System, and the associate director of the
Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at UCLA’s David Geffen
School of Medicine.

A second expert agreed that diet probably does influence the

“The papers share a focus on the idea that diet plays a
role in Alzheimer’s, a consensus that has been building for the
past five or six years,” said Dr. Sam Gandy, the chair of the
Medical and Scientific Advisory Council at the Alzheimer’s
Association and director of the Farber Institute for Neurosciences
at Thomas Jefferson University.

“The common thread is that both papers point toward
intervention at the earliest moment having a greater effect and the
suggestion that prevention may have the greatest effect of
all,” Gandy said.

“Once the gooey amyloid material has accumulated and
poisoned nerve cells and the cells have died, it is very hard to
think seriously about repairing damage that severe,” he

More information

There’s more on Alzheimer’s disease at the Alzheimer’s