The Mediterranean diet has been extensively studied for heart health, to manage Type 2 diabetes, regulate blood glucose and improve insulin sensitivity.
Studies have also shown its benefits for reducing risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In general, it has been shown to support healthy ageing and longevity.
A study in 2013, found that the women involved were 46% more likely to age healthfully when enjoying a diet resembling a Mediterranean approach.
Mediterranean Diet & Cardiovascular health
A study in 2018, including almost 26,000 women on a Mediterranean diet, showed that over a 12-year period, they had 25% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Upon examination they found the diet helped manage certain underlying mechanisms that potentially contribute to this result.
The Mediterranean diet helps to manage levels of inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a driver of cardiovascular risk. The inclusion of fish as well as a broad range of plant foods, antioxidants and healthful oils provide anti-inflammatory compounds.
Blood Sugar Control
Including whole grains combined with healthy fats and protein, and the avoidance of added sugar and starchy carbohydrates, helps to maintain balanced blood glucose levels. As a result, this prevents the risk of insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance prevents glucose entering the cells and remaining high in the bloodstream – raised blood glucose leads to inflammation and damage to blood vessels.
The study above also showed how the diet helped women maintain a healthy BMI. It is well established that obesity, particularly central obesity, puts both men and women at risk of cardiovascular disease, see here.
Mediterranean Diet & Cognitive health
As we age, we lose brain cells, when the area of the brain called the hippocampus is affected it results in issues with memory and learning.
A study published in 2017 by Neurology, followed 967 Scottish people around 70 years old. Over 6 years, the individuals underwent 2 brain scans measuring overall brain volume. Those who followed more closely a Mediterranean diet had a lower loss of total brain volume.
A study in 2010, reported that subjects maintaining a high adherence to the Mediterranean diet had slowed cognitive decline, a reduced risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment conversion to Alzheimer’s Disease and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
We are learning to understand some of the underlying contributing factors to dementia, Mild Cognitive Decline and Alzheimer’s. Dr Dale Bredesen, who wrote the book ‘The End of Alzheimer’s’ and ‘The End of Alzheimer’s Program’ highlights the many contributing factors that put individuals at a higher risk of cognitive decline. These include:
- lack of antioxidants, vitamins and certain minerals
- compromised gut health
- central obesity
- inflammatory markers
- poor ratio of omega 6 to omega 3
- dysregulated hormones (sex, thyroid and stress)
- toxic elements such as mercury
- certain pathogen such as herpes virus
When we consider the benefits of an unprocessed diet such as the Mediterranean diet, it can alleviate some of the risk factors above by providing nutrient rich foods, anti-inflammatory compounds, helping to maintain a healthy weight, balancing & supporting hormonal levels.
These risk markers underlie not just cardiovascular and brain health but metabolic health in general. Looking at family history and genes will give an indication on where an individual’s weakness may lie and how these imbalances within the body are likely to manifest for each individual.
Therefore, no matter what your genetic or family history looks like, an individual will best support their health by following a nutrient rich unprocessed diet most of the time.
Would you like to learn more about how you can optimise your health through nutrition and lifestyle changes? Join our Nutrition & Health Coaching course beginning on September 14th.