A Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, nuts and seafood could reduce the risk of dementia by almost a quarter.
Researchers looked at nearly 60,300 people over 40 in the United Kingdom who were asked about their typical diet for 24 hours.
Their answers were rated by their closeness to the healthy Mediterranean diet, popular in countries like Italy and Spain, which includes fruits and vegetables, legumes and a moderate amount of wine.
The third of people who scored the highest on a Mediterranean-style diet were 23 percent less likely to develop dementia than the third who scored the lowest.
A Mediterranean diet is believed to reduce inflammation in the body and brain, which is linked to dementia.
A Mediterranean diet is thought to reduce inflammation in the body and brain, which is linked to dementia (file image)
Dr Claire McEvoy, co-author of the study from Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Most people are not aware that maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can protect memory and thinking abilities during ageing.” .
“This important study shows that eating more vegetables, fruit, fish and olive oil and fewer processed foods, sugary foods and red meat could help reduce the risk of future dementia in our UK population.”
There are currently around 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with no known cure, so ways to prevent the disease in our daily lives are a major focus of scientific research.
Previous studies have shown mixed results on whether the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of dementia.
However, this is one of the largest conducted, including 882 people who were diagnosed with the condition when their health was tracked for an average of nine years.
Each person in the study completed one to five questionnaires at different times about what they had eaten in the previous 24 hours, to give an idea of their usual diet.
Their selections, from a list of more than 200 foods and 32 drinks, plus the portions they had eaten, were given a score out of 13 based on how close they were to the Mediterranean diet.
For example, someone who eats the required 400 grams of vegetables would get one point for this type of food, but only 0.5 points if they ate 200 grams.
The 13 categories scored included seafood, legumes and nuts, and people scored higher if they didn’t eat too much of certain products like red meat and sugary drinks.
Under this scoring system, the third of people with the highest score were 23 percent less likely to develop dementia compared to the third with the lowest scores.
Under two slightly different scoring systems, where people got points only if they reached a certain amount of each Mediterranean food, such as getting one point for 400 grams of vegetables, a lower risk of dementia was also seen.
This was a 14 percent lower risk for the third of people who scored the highest on a Mediterranean diet, compared to the third who scored the lowest.
The researchers used different ways of scoring the diet to check that the result was reliable.
They also took into account factors such as people’s age, sleep levels and exercise, which could also affect their risk of dementia.
People in the early stages of dementia may not remember to eat as healthily, making it seem like an unhealthy diet causes dementia, when in reality the disease leads to a poorer diet.
But the result was still seen in people who were followed for the longest period of the study, making it less likely that this is the case.
The study, led by the University of Newcastle and published in the journal BMC Medicine, found a reduced risk of dementia in people who followed a Mediterranean diet, even when they had a higher genetic risk of the condition.
This was based on a detailed profile of almost a quarter of a million genetic differences that may increase the risk of dementia.