Effect of Mediterranean diet on cognitive decline varies by race: study

The Mediterranean diet, which features fewer meat products and more plant-based foods and monounsaturated fatty acids from olive and canola oil than a typical American diet, may have broad health benefits, but its effect on cognitive decline differs by race, according to a new study published in the Journal of Gerontology.

“In a population of initially well-functioning older adults, we found a significant correlation between strong adherence to the Mediterranean diet and a slower rate of cognitive decline among African-American, but not white, older adults,” the authors state. “Our study is the first to show a possible race-specific association between the Mediterranean diet and cognitive decline.”

The team of researchers reached its findings by analyzing a National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging (NIH/NIA) prospective cohort study, Health ABC, conducted over eight years in the United States to measure the effects of adherence to a Mediterranean diet. The investigators used data from several Modified Mini-Mental State Examinations of 2,326 participating older adults aged 70 to 79 years to assess the association between Mediterranean diet score and brain function.

Additional studies in diverse populations are needed to confirm an association between the Mediterranean diet and cognitive decline and to pinpoint factors that may explain these results, the researchers say.

The study was funded in part by grants from the NIH/NIA and the Alzheimer's Association.

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