May 2013

Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Incident Cognitive Impairment Risk

Adopting and maintaining the Mediterranean diet may be linked to a lower risk of incident cognitive impairment (ICI), a study reports.

Cognitive function, also called cognitive performance or cognition, refers to the ability of an individual to think, process, and store information in order to solve problems. Humans are the only organisms capable of cognition. Cognitive disorders are characterized by delirium, dementia, and/or amnesia. Delirium is a term used to describe a confused mental state in which a patient has difficulty processing and interpreting information. Dementia is the loss of mental ability that is so severe that it interferes with daily functioning. Amnesia may cause difficulty remembering previously learned information. Treatment for cognitive disorders depends on the underlying cause. Most disorders are incurable and some may have devastating effects. For instance, Alzheimer's disease eventually leads to complete cognitive impairment. Treatment may help delay progression of such disorders. Other disorders, such as age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) may only cause mild symptoms.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in heart-healthy fiber and nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. The diet generally includes: fruits, vegetables and unsaturated "good" fats, particularly olive oil. Olive oil has been associated with benefits such as lower blood pressure and a lower risk for heart disease. In addition, olive oil may benefit people with type 2 diabetes.

In the current study, researchers determined the potential benefits of the Mediterranean diet in reducing the risk of ICI. They analyzed information from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study that took place from 2003 to 2007. They evaluated data on Mediterranean diet adherence and cognitive status from 17,478 participants.

ICI was identified in a total of 1,248 people. Higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was linked to a lower risk of ICI. The researchers found that the presence of diabetes appeared to affect this relationship. Although non-diabetic people had a lower ICI risk with better diet adherence, this was not the case in those who had diabetes.

The research team concluded that the Mediterranean diet may have benefits in terms of lowering ICI risk. However, this link may be moderated by the presence of diabetes. More information is needed before firm conclusions may be made.

Aside from the Mediterranean diet, numerous other integrative treatments have been studied for possible benefit in cognitive function. Caffeine and ginkgo are supported by strong scientific evidence for this purpose, while there is good scientific evidence on the effectiveness of aromatherapy, ginseng, light therapy, music therapy, and therapeutic touch.

For more information about the Mediterranean diet, please visit Natural Standard's Health & Wellness Database.


  1. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 
  2. Tsivgoulis G, Judd S, Letter AJ, et al. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and risk of incident cognitive impairment. Neurology. 2013 Apr 30;80(18):1684-1692. 

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