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Mediterranean Diet Helps Alzheimer's Patients Live Longer, Study Finds

Results suggest that the wine-friendly diet is helpful across a broad range of health concerns—and healthy living in general

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: September 12, 2007

A new study, published yesterday in the journal Neurology, found that sufferers of Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, live longer if they eat a Mediterranean-type diet. The diet is typically defined as rich in fish, olive oil, cereals, fruits and vegetables and enjoyed with a glass or two of alcohol, usually wine, with the final meal in the evening.

"The more closely people followed the Mediterranean diet, the more they reduced their mortality," said study author Nikolaos Scarmeas, a researcher at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, whose earlier research found that a Mediterranean diet is linked to a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's. "For example, Alzheimer's patients who adhered to the diet to a moderate degree lived an average 1.3 years longer than those people who least adhered to the diet. And those Alzheimer's patients who followed the diet very religiously lived an average four years longer."

Patients who most closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet showed a 73 percent reduction in mortality risk compared with those who followed the diet least, according to the study, which followed 192 upper Manhattan residents living with Alzheimer's disease over an average of four and a half years. The subjects were interviewed to determine the extent of their debilitation, and their diets were ranked according to the Mediterranean diet scale created by Antonia Trichopoulou, a professor at the University of Athens Medical School. On a zero-to-seven scale, the subjects scored higher the more closely they followed the Mediterranean diet, and lower if they followed a more Western diet, such as higher intake of red meat, chicken and dairy, or no alcohol per day or more than two glasses per day.

Eighty-five of the subjects died during the study. The researchers cross-referenced the rate of death to the choice of diet, and found that those who most closely followed a Mediterranean diet were 83 percent less likely to die than those who followed the diet the least. Those who ranked in the middle of the diet scale, with a score of three or four, also saw benefits, in that they were 35 percent less likely to die.

An accompanying editorial to the study, called "Pass the Grain, Spare the Brain," by Dr. James Galvin of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the Washington University school of medicine, said that the study is important beyond Alzheimer's. "It is interesting that considering all of the medical and pharmaceutical advances made in the last century, perhaps the most important things we can still tell our patients, regardless of why they come to the office, is to stay mentally active and physically fit and to eat a healthy and balanced diet," Galvin wrote.

"New benefits of this diet keep coming out," added Scarmeas. "We need to do more research to determine whether eating a Mediterranean diet also helps Alzheimer's patients have slower rates of cognitive decline, maintain their daily living skills and have a better quality of life."

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