A study published in a recent issue of The Archives of Neurology Journal by a team headed by Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas at New York's Columbia University found that a Mediterranean diet might help prevent the full-blown dementia of Alzheimer's disease among patients with early memory problems.
Of people who were suffering from recall problems, those who followed a diet high in fish, oil and vegetables were less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's. And those who had no memory problems were less likely to suffer them over the course of the five-year-long study, which followed 1,393 volunteers with no memory problems, and 482 patients already diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.
Scientists believe that individual components of the diet could be responsible for the effect, and concluded that those who stuck closely to the diet were 48 percent less likely to transition from mild cognitive impairment into dementia than those who ate a "normal" diet.
Those with no memory issues reduced their possibility of developing mild cognitive impairment when following this diet, by 28 percent.
These findings could bode well for the thousands of people in Philadelphia who suffer from Alzheimer's disease or related dementia. The average onset of the disease is age 65, although the Alzheimer's Association is aware of an additional 400,000 people nationwide among whom Alzheimer's has been detected at a younger age.
"We're doing a better job of diagnosing, of recognizing Alzheimer's disease, and as a result we've seen a big rise in the number of younger onset being diagnosed," according to Claire Day, director of programs and education for the Philadelphia-based Delaware Valley Chapter of the association.
Several years ago, the association partnered with the American Heart Association to publicize the advantages of maintaining brain function through a sensible, healthy diet.
"Twenty-five percent of blood from every heartbeat goes to your brain, so it makes sense that if your heart is working well, it will improve the way your brain works," explains Day.
However, brain function and diet don't always go hand in hand.
"We know people who have eaten well and been socially active, but who still develop Alzheimer's disease. So while a Mediterranean diet can potentially lower risks of Alzheimer's, it won't necessarily prevent the disease from happening," says Day.
Still, the results of the study are encouraging, she adds.
"Eating a typical Mediterranean diet, which is composed of fish, vegetables, fruits and cereals, with small quantities of alcohol and little dairy, meat and saturated fats, is something people can actively do to improve their overall health," says Day. 'There's hope on the horizon, but Alzheimer's is still a very real problem in our nation."
Facts about Alzheimer's
· The average length of time one has the disease is 12 years.
· Early warning signs include memory loss, difficulty remembering recent experiences or names, problems performing familiar tasks, and disorientation in time and place.
· Patients exhibit symptoms an average of three to five years prior to being formally diagnosed, as early warning signs often get ignored by friends and family members.
· Alzheimer's disease is the most common of about 70 different types of dementia.
For more info, go to: www.americanheart.org.