Mediterranean diet habits in older individuals: associations with cognitive functioning and brain volumes.Exp Gerontol 2013; 48(12):1443-8EG
To examine the association between dietary habits, cognitive functioning and brain volumes in older individuals, data from 194 cognitively healthy individuals who participated in the Prospective Investigation of the Vasculature in Uppsala Seniors cohort were used. At age 70, participants kept diaries of their food intake for 1week. These records were used to calculate a Mediterranean diet (MeDi) score (comprising dietary habits traditionally found in Mediterranean countries, e.g. high intake of fruits and low intake of meat), with higher scores indicating more pronounced MeDi-like dietary habits. Five years later, participants' cognitive capabilities were examined by the seven minute screening (7MS) (a cognitive test battery used by clinicians to screen for dementia), and their brain volumes were measured by volumetric magnetic resonance imaging. Multivariate linear regression analyses were constructed to examine the association between the total MeDi score and cognitive functioning and brain volumes. In addition, possible associations between MeDi's eight dietary features and cognitive functioning and brain volumes were investigated. From the eight dietary features included in the MeDi score, pertaining to a low consumption of meat and meat products was linked to a better performance on the 7MS test (P=0.001) and greater total brain volume (i.e. the sum of white and gray matter, P=0.03) when controlling for potential confounders (e.g. BMI) in the analysis. Integrating all dietary features into the total MeDi score explained less variance in cognitive functioning and brain volumes than its single dietary component meat intake. These observational findings suggest that keeping to a low meat intake could prove to be an impact-driven public health policy to support healthy cognitive aging, when confirmed by longitudinal studies. Further, they suggest that the MeDi score is a construct that may mask possible associations of single MeDi features with brain health domains in elderly populations.