Mediterranean diet may delay Alzheimer's

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There’s a mountain of evidence showing that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, but a new UCLA study suggests that it can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s as well.

Led by Assistant Clinical Professor David A. Merrill, MD, PhD, the study is the first to show that a Mediterranean diet combined with exercise can reduce the buildup of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in individuals with mild memory problems.

"The fact that we could detect this influence of lifestyle at a molecular level before the beginning of serious memory problems surprised us," says Dr. Merrill.

The study examined nearly 50 patients from 40 to 85 years old. Twenty-four subjects had subjective (self-reported) memory impairment and 20 reported mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The individuals reported their BMI, physical activity levels and the extent to which they followed a Mediterranean diet. The patients then underwent a novel PET scan called FDDNP-PET, which measures the levels of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the brain.

The team found that those who had a healthy BMI, engaged in regular physical activity and followed a Mediterranean diet had lower levels of tangles and plaques in their brains than subjects who did not adhere to these behaviors.

"The study reinforces the importance of living a healthy life to prevent Alzheimer's, even before the development of clinically significant dementia. This work lends key insight not only into the ability of patients to prevent Alzheimer's disease, but also physicians' ability to detect and image these changes,” wrote Merrill et al.