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This Diet May Not Reduce the Risk of Dementia, Study Says

The research is mixed on this popular way of eating.
FACT CHECKED BY Samantha Boesch

What you eat can affect how your brain functions and how quickly it ages. That includes potentially avoiding cognitive issues like dementia, which is something that affects millions of people, according to the CDC. That's why you want to make sure you're regularly consuming foods that will benefit your brain. With that in mind, you'll surely be interested to learn that a recent study found that a certain popular diet may not actually reduce the risk of dementia.

This study by researchers from Lund University in Sweden was published in Neurology and involved 28,025 participants who were an average age of 58.1 years old. At the beginning of the study, the participants were also free of dementia. Over the course of 20 years, those involved were asked to answer a questionnaire and interview questions, as well as log their eating habits. The researchers specifically took a look at whether or not the participants' diets fulfilled the requirements of the Mediterranean diet.

The researchers also noted that at the end of the 20-year period, 6.9% (or 1,943) of the participants had been diagnosed with dementia. Both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia were among the diagnoses.

When the researchers compared the participants' diets to the diagnoses and factored in various aspects such as age, gender, and education levels, they failed to find a connection between eating the Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of dementia.

What experts say about these findings

mediterranean platter

"While our study does not rule out a possible association between diet and dementia, we did not find a link in our study, which had a long follow-up period, included younger participants than some other studies, and did not require people to remember what foods they had eaten regularly years before," study author Dr. Isabelle Glans, research and doctoral student at Lund University, said in a press release.

"One strength of this study is that it had participants record what they ate instead of trying to remember. It is difficult to recall what you ate in the past, especially serving size, and we may naturally recall the healthier foods we ate more than the 'junk' food," Leann Poston M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed. of TeleMDNow, tells Eat This, Not That!

Poston also points out that "researchers followed participants for 20 years and looked for links between diet and dementia," however, "none were found." She adds, "To me, this is not surprising because most diets provide the baseline nutrients needed for brain metabolism. Choose whole-food diets that are high in fruits and vegetables, healthy sources of fat and protein, and rich in complex carbohydrates. Avoid highly processed foods."

greek salad mediterranean diet

At the same time, Poston notes that "it is important not to discount the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, as it has cardiovascular benefits and may reduce the risk of obesity." It's also crucial to look at this study as just one study, and to make sure you're getting as full a picture as possible.

A recent 2021 report published in Journal of Internal Medicine found that the Mediterranean diet is not only associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, but was also found to be linked to lower incidences of age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders.

Poston also brings up the fact that despite the mixed research on this topic, "High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity are chronic diseases affected by diet that may also increase your risk of dementia."

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée