Mediterranean Diet in Alzheimer’s Patients Lengthens Lives

Research coming out of Columbia University Medical Center in New York indicates that following a “Mediterranean diet” could help people with Alzheimers disease live longer than patients who eat a more conventional Western diet.

The study, published in the September 11, 2007, issue of Neurology, followed 192 people with Alzheimer’s disease in New York, an average four and a half years. During that period, 85 of the people died. Researchers discovered that those who most closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet were 76% less likely to die during the study period than those who followed the diet the least.

      “The more closely people followed the Mediterranean diet, the more they reduced their mortality,” said study author Nikos Scarmeas, MD, MSc, of

Columbia University Medical Center

    in New York, and member of the American Academy of Neurology. “For example, Alzheimers 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 Alzheimers patients who followed the diet very religiously lived an average four years longer.”

Good Fats, Bad Fats

The Mediterranean diet is a dietary model inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of some of the countries of the Mediterranean basin, particularly Greece and Southern Italy.

Common to the diets of these regions are a high consumption of fruit and vegetables, bread, wheat and other cereals, olive oil, fish, a low intake of saturated fatty acids, dairy products, meat and poultry; and a mild to moderate amount of alcohol.

Although it was first publicized in 1945 by the American doctor Ancel Keys stationed in Salerno, Italy, the Mediterranean diet failed to gain widespread recognition until the 1990s. It is based on what from the point of view of mainstream nutrition is considered a paradox: that although the people living in Mediterranean countries tend to consume relatively high amounts of fat, they have far lower rates of cardiovascular disease than in countries like the United States, where similar levels of fat consumption are found.

Risk Also Lowered

Preceding research by Scarmeas showed that healthy people following a Mediterranean diet lower their risk of developing Alzheimers disease. Studies have also shown that healthy people who follow a Mediterranean diet live longer than those who eat a more traditional Western diet, higher in saturated fat and meats and lower in fruits and vegetables.

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

Confocal Micrograph of an Alzheimer’s brain showing a region of amyloid plaque. Courtesy Wellcome Image Library- Creative Commons License