"Mediterranean" Diet Slows Cognitive Decline
> 2/11/2009 2:25:49 PM

In a society obsessed, to an unhealthy degree, with diet and appearance, a new study has made waves in scientific and health-centered media circles. The long-term report reveals that consistently eating a diet shaped by the "Mediterranean" model lowers the long-term risks of developing mild cognitive impairment or progressing from mild dementia to Alzheimer's disease.

The Mediterranean diet, according to the Mayo Clinic, "traditionally includes fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice" as well as regular servings of seafood and very limited amounts of red meat. It is most commonly found in the traditional fare of countries like Greece and Israel. Previous research has established that such diets can be effective for countering high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, not to mention obesity. But the study, performed at Columbia University Medical Center and published in the Archives of Neurology, lends great credence to the theory that eating habits can play a large role in forestalling cognitive decline, even for those whose past habits have been less than healthy and those who already suffer from symptoms of low-level dementia.

Tracking 1,393 subjects over an average follow-up period of 4 1/2 years, researchers found that rates of cognitive impairment correlated very closely with the degree to which the subjects' diets conformed to the Mediterranean model. Those whose diets most resembled the model were 28% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, a common precursor to Alzheimers. Perhaps most strikingly, those Mediterranean diet adherents who already suffered from mild dementia when the study began were 48% less likely to develop full-blown Alzheimer's by its end.

One only need look at our own FDA's tragically flawed, potato-is-a-vegetable food pyramid to see why this diet is so effective: it contains ample servings of fruit and especially vegetables; it utilizes healthy fats such as canola and olive oils; it contains more mixed nuts and fewer products derived from peanuts and soybeans; it relies on more fish and less on red meat than the conventional American diet. In the long term, it reduces the buildup of low-density or "bad" cholesterol in the body, allowing for the freer movement of organic materials through the bloodstream and the digestive system.

How, then, to explain the diet's cognitive benefits? Researchers can only speculate, but the two prevailing theories, according to the study's lead author, are more effective blood flow to the brain and decreased risk of inflammation, one of the more common causes of neurological disease. 

A series of more narrowly focused studies are needed to confirm the link between diet and cognitive decline, but this study's conclusions lead, once again, to the near-unanimous scientific opinion regarding the standard western diet. The collected populations of Western, post-industrial societies eat far too much of a few items that, in bulk, can seriously damage our health: bread, potatoes, red meat, salt, sugar and artificial flavorings or preservatives. The sooner we learn to moderate our intake, the greater our collective health will be. How then can we spread this critical data to the masses? One simple word says it all, and that word is: Oprah.

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