Following a Mediterranean diet improves the health of the brain, according to new research.
The study, conducted by researchers at Columbia University in New York, provides further evidence of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet for people with diabetes.
What is a Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is popular among people with diabetes. With a focus on healthy fats, proteins, and non-starchy vegetables, it provides “good” HDL cholesterol and protects the heart. Mediterranean diets vary in their make-up. Some include a lot of carbohydrate-heavy foods such as pasta and bread, but these can be replaced with more unsaturated fat and protein.
Studies suggest that carbohydrate-restricted versions of the Mediterranean diet offer a number of benefits to people with diabetes, including lower blood glucose levels and improved heart health.
Improving brain health
This study found that a Mediterranean diet preserves brain health, particularly in older people. It is not the first study to do so. A few months ago, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association observed that people randomised to follow a Mediterranean diet performed better on cognitive tests than people on a low-fat diet. Other studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This study focused on a particular aspect of brain health.
As we age, our brains shrink. But the researchers found that people eating a Mediterranean diet experienced less brain shrinkage than those who didn’t. The study was based on an analysis of almost 700 elderly people living in New York City. Ethnically, the participants were a diverse group, with an even mixture of Caucasia, African-American and Latino participants.
After being asked questions about their diet, the participants’ brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The participants who adhered to a Mediterranean diet had greater brain volume than those who didn’t.
“Among cognitively health older adults, we were able to detect an association between higher adherence to a Mediterranean type diet and better brain measures,” said study author Yian Gu.
“These results are exciting, as they raise the possibility that people may potentially prevent brain shrinking and the effects of aging on the brain simply by following a healthy diet.”
Diabetes and the brain
The findings suggest further benefits of the Mediterranean diet for people with diabetes, in addition to its beneficial effects on blood glucose levels and heart health.
Diabetes can have a significant effect on the brain. Research has associated both type 1 and type 2 diabetes with a higher risk of cognitive impairment. This does not suggest that everyone with diabetes will be cognitively impaired, but it is more likely than in people without diabetes.
The findings were published in Neurology.

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