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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Mediterranean Diet Plus Exercise Cuts Alzheimer's Risk

Mediterranean Diet Slows Mental Decline; Exercise Adds to Benefit
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Mediterranean Diet No Quick Fix for Mental Decline continued...

Scarmeas notes that both his study and the French study (in which he served as a co-investigator with study leader Catherine Feart, PhD, of INSERM) do not prove that either the Mediterranean diet or exercise will protect a person against Alzheimer's disease or cognitive decline.

"We need a clinical trial to have a higher degree of certainty, but we know these types of behaviors are beneficial in terms of other conditions and diseases," he says. "So it may be good to follow them even with just this preliminary hint they are good for brain health. And just one of these behaviors may not be enough. It may be best to focus on both eating well and staying active."

The elderly people who have a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease probably did not wait until their 70th birthdays to start a healthy lifestyle, notes Mayo Clinic neurologist David S. Knopman, MD.

"To the extent they have an effect on the brain, healthy diet and physical activity probably act over many decades," Knopman tells WebMD.

Is there some special component of the Mediterranean diet that fights Alzheimer's disease? Maybe. But Knopman notes that the Scarmeas study compared those who most closely followed the Mediterranean diet to those who least followed it.

"In the U.S., those who least adhere to the Mediterranean diet would be eating double cheeseburgers and other fast food," he says. "The findings might mean there's something bad in this diet, rather than something good in the Mediterranean diet."

Knopman says the main message of the Scarmeas and Feart studies is that diet is a very important part of a healthy lifestyle. Studies link the Mediterranean diet not only to slower mental decline but to lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and early death.

"This diet can't be so fantastic that it has biochemical effects on all these things -- that stretches credibility," Knopman says. "It seems more likely these studies are picking up on some healthy lifestyle behaviors and other factors that began in childhood."

The Scarmeas and Feart studies, and an editorial by Knopman, appear in the Aug. 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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