November 2013

Mediterranean Diet Linked to Reduced Cognitive Decline

A recent study suggests that people who consistently adhere to a Mediterranean diet may have a reduced risk for stoke, depression and cognitive impairment.

The Mediterranean diet is based on the healthy eating and lifestyle habits of the people living in Southern Italy, the Greek island of Crete and other areas of Greece in the early 1960s. The 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 a recent study, researchers conducted a comprehensive literature search for studies evaluating the effects of the Mediterranean diet on cognitive impairment, depression, Parkinson's disease and stroke risk. Twenty-two studies were ultimately identified for inclusion.

Through data analyses, the researchers found that people who consistently adhered to a Mediterranean diet had a 40 percent reduced risk of cognitive impairment, 32 percent reduced risk of depression, and a 29 percent reduced risk of stroke. Those who moderately adhered to the diet had similarly reduced risks for both cognitive impairment and depression, while the reduction in stroke risk was minimal. After further analysis, the authors noted that the effects on stroke risk appeared to be more prominent in men than in women.

The authors concluded that consistently adhering to a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk for a number of brain diseases, particularly cognitive impairment, stroke and depression. A study published earlier this year also found that maintaining a Mediterranean diet rich in extra-virgin oil or mixed nuts may improve brain function. Additional research is warranted.

In addition to the Mediterranean diet, many other integrative therapies have been studied for their potential to improve brain function. Caffeine has a long history of use for enhancing mood and cognitive (mental) function. Caffeine may be useful when consumed prior to a cognition-related task. It also appears to heighten working memory and improve reaction time, but it has less effect on long-term memory. Additionally, several studies suggest that Panax ginseng may improve mental performance in healthy individuals. Further studies are needed in this area.

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

For more information about integrative therapies that may slow cognitive decline, please visit Natural Standard's Comparative Effectiveness Database.

To comment on this story, please visit Natural Standard's blog.


  1. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 
  2. Psaltopoulou T, Sergentanis TN, Panagiotakos DB, et al. Mediterranean diet, stroke, cognitive impairment, and depression: A meta-analysis. Ann Neurol. 2013 May 30. 

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