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Eating a traditional Mediterranean food may reduce dementia risk by 23%: Study

Eating a traditional Mediterranean-type diet,  rich in foods including seafood, fruit, and nuts, may help reduce the risk of dementia by almost a quarter, researchers of a new study said.

The study led by researchers from Newcastle University and published in the journal BMC Medicine recently found that people who ate a Mediterranean-like diet had up to 23% lower risk for developing dementia than those who did not.

In their study, which is one of the largest studies of its kind to date,  the researchers analysed data from 60,298 individuals from the UK Biobank, a large cohort including individuals from across the UK, who had completed a dietary assessment and after following up the participants for almost a decade found that 882 of them developed dementia.

The study was led by Dr Oliver Shannon, Lecturer in Human Nutrition and Ageing, Newcastle University, with Professor Emma Stevenson and joint senior author Professor David Llewellyn and experts from the universities of Edinburgh, UEA and Exeter.

“Dementia impacts the lives of millions of individuals throughout the world, and there are currently limited options for treating this condition,” Dr Shannon said while explaining their research.

Dr Shannon added, "Our study suggests that eating a more Mediterranean-like diet could be one strategy to help individuals lower their risk of dementia," emphasising that finding ways to reduce the risk of developing dementia is a major priority for researchers and clinicians.

The authors said that they found no significant interaction between polygenic dementia risk and Mediterranean diet adherence. According to the researchers, this could imply that even for those with a higher genetic risk, eating a healthier diet could reduce the chances of developing the condition.

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This finding was not consistent across all analyses, and the authors suggest that more research is needed to determine the interaction between diet and genetics in dementia risk.

“The good news from this study is that, even for those with higher genetic risk, having a better diet reduced the likelihood of developing dementia,” John Mathers, Professor of Human Nutrition, at Newcastle University, said.

 “Although more research is needed in this area, this strengthens the public health message that we can all help to reduce our risk of dementia by eating a more Mediterranean-like diet,” he added

Pointing out that their analysis is limited to individuals who self-reported their ethnic background as white, British or Irish, as genetic data was only available based on European ancestry, the authors said that further research is needed in a range of populations to determine the potential benefit.

Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that a Mediterranean diet rich in healthy plant-based foods may be an important intervention to include in future dementia prevention strategies.

“The findings from this large population-based study underscore the long-term brain health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats,” Dr Janice Ranson at the University of Exeter, joint lead author on the paper, said.

“The protective effect of this diet against dementia was evident regardless of a person’s genetic risk, and so this is likely to be a beneficial lifestyle choice for people looking to make healthy dietary choices and reduce their risk of dementia,” Dr Ranson added.

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