Mediterranean Diet May Cut Alzheimer's
Combining Healthy Foods May Be the Key, Study Shows
Looking at the Big Picture
Past studies have focused on isolated nutrients, Scarmeas notes.
"The novel approach of this study is that we looked at the combination of foods into a food pattern… because people do not consume dietary elements in isolation, but only as part of their overall diet," he says.
Possibly, it's the combination of nutrients, not single nutrients, "that would be carrying beneficial results," Scarmeas says.
"When we looked at individual elements of this diet in isolation, we could not detect much beneficial effect, while when we looked at all of them together, the effect was there and it was quite prominent," Scarmeas says.
"This underlines again the importance of looking at combinations of foods and nutrients when we look at the diet, rather than individual ones."
The Mediterranean diet isn't a diet in the sense of a temporary dietary change. It's about eating healthfully in the long run, not following flash-in-the-pan food fads.
"We looked into our data, and adherence to these dietary habits seems to be a longstanding pattern," Scarmeas says. "It seems that people do not change their diet preferences and this is what they have been following for years."
"In particular for Alzheimer's disease, we do not know exactly when the disease starts," Scarmeas says. "There are data that show that small changes in the brain may occur decades before the clinical onset of the symptoms. So it seems that it's important that whatever dietary elements are beneficial that they are taken as early as possible and for a long time."
Observational studies like this one don't prove that participants' eating habits solely prevented Alzheimer's. Even after adjusting for other factors, it's possible that people favoring Mediterranean diets had other traits working in their favor.
"Since it's the first study relating this diet to Alzheimer's disease, it's a little bit premature to make recommendations to people," Scarmeas says. "It has to be replicated and shown that it is beneficial by other investigators and in other studies. That will increase our confidence that this is a true finding."