Ancient diet, modern benefits: Exploring the Mediterranean connection to cognitive health

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cognitive-decline-slowed(NaturalHealth365)  Dementia, a pervasive threat to the elderly, stealing their cherished golden years, is now seen through a lens that connects it to metabolic health issues like type 2 diabetes.  The role of diet in safeguarding against cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia has become increasingly evident.

For example, the Mediterranean diet stands out as a beacon of health, renowned for its protective qualities against cancer and diabetes and for promoting weight management.  In fact, a recent study from France aimed to further elucidate the positive impact of this diet on cognitive health as individuals age.

Given the well-documented advantages of the Mediterranean diet, any additional evidence reinforcing its benefits is of immense significance.  Let’s delve into the study’s findings and explore some insights on embracing a Mediterranean lifestyle.

A deep dive into the Mediterranean diet and longevity

Cultures around the Mediterranean Sea are largely in what is considered a blue zone – areas where the population lives long, healthy lives.  Places like Sardinia, Greece, Italy, Crete, and others that follow similar lifestyles and diets have significantly more people within their population living healthfully into their 80s, 90s, and beyond.  This longevity is at least partially attributed to the way that they eat and live their lives.

The diet itself is exceedingly simple, filled mostly with whole foods, healthy protein from fish, sheep, and poultry, and lots of plants, like beans, greens, and squash.  People in these regions enjoy some red wine and vinegar and oil-based salad dressing and certainly avoid highly processed foods filled with industrial seed oils, high fructose corn syrup, and the preservatives that are rife within foods in western nations.

Blood biomarkers: A scientific window into dietary efficacy

It turns out that you can measure the efficacy of your diet within your blood.  There are certain biomarkers that can be gathered as data points from blood samples, like docosahexaenoic acid from fish, enterolactone and nitric oxide from plants, and oleic acid from healthy fats.  We know that these biomarkers, among dozens of others, benefit us by reducing inflammation, dilating blood vessels, and protecting us from free radical damage.

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Because we can measure these biomarkers, the study did not simply rely on self-reported dietary data from the participants – the researchers actually drew blood samples to determine what the diets of these participants principally were.

Mediterranean diet’s impact on cognitive health: A 12-year study

In a study conducted across three French cities, researchers examined the cognitive health of participants around the age of 75.  Upon enrollment, participants underwent evaluations for cognitive decline and potential signs of dementia.  They also provided insights into their health status, encompassing conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and familial metabolic predispositions.  Blood samples were collected to assess relevant biomarkers and cognitive assessments were conducted.

The study juxtaposed two groups: a control group comprising individuals with diverse dietary habits and another group committed to the Mediterranean diet.  Over 12 years, participants adhered to their dietary patterns and returned periodically for health evaluations and blood analyses.

The findings were striking.  Those adhering to the Mediterranean diet exhibited notably reduced cognitive decline compared to their counterparts.  Additionally, they showcased a diminished prevalence of diabetes, alongside fewer instances of metabolic ailments such as cardiovascular issues, hypertension, and weight fluctuations.

How to make the Mediterranean diet work for you

At its core, the Mediterranean diet champions simplicity: prioritizing organic whole foods, predominantly from plant sources and cold-water fish, while sidestepping processed foods.  Yet, the secret behind the longevity observed in blue zones isn’t solely diet-centric.  Factors like regular walking, reduced stress levels, and restrained consumption of alcohol, sugar, and tobacco play pivotal roles.

For those considering a dietary shift, a simple adjustment could involve occasionally substituting common protein sources like factory-farmed beef with sheep, goat, or lamb – creatures that naturally graze on grass, resulting in meat rich in beneficial fats.  In contrast, conventionally raised livestock, fed on corn and other grains produce meat with elevated levels of inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acids.  Incorporating cold-water fish, especially sardines, further enhances the intake of essential fats without exposing oneself to the mercury risks associated with larger (deep water) marine species.

Enjoy meatless meals by eating organic (non-GMO) tofu and beans as a source of protein, and eat far more organic plants in general.  Eating seasonally will help you cover your nutritional needs, too – most humans only eat within a very small group of fruits and vegetables when we were designed to thrive on a variety of nuts, seeds, sprouts, plants, meats, fruit, and legumes.

The Mediterranean diet has many benefits, especially when paired with these cultures’ lifestyles.  Keep your stress low, walk and exercise more, and eat organic whole foods as much as possible, and you can enjoy years of great brain function and overall wellbeing.

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