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A new international study led by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has joined forces for one of the world's longest and largest brain MRI experiments and has found: A green Mediterranean diet may slow the natural degeneration of the age-related brain. The findings were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
A green Mediterranean diet, rich in polyphenols (plant-based food compounds) but low in red and processed meat, may slow age-related brain degeneration, according to the study.
About 284 participants aged 31-82 took part in the 18-month trial. Participants were randomly divided into three groups: a group that followed healthy diet guidelines, a group that followed a Mediterranean diet, and a group that followed a green Mediterranean diet. In the Mediterranean diet group, participants were given 30 grams of polyphenol-rich walnuts daily. In addition to walnuts, the participants were provided with 4 cups of green tea a day and a smoothie of the green water plant Daquid, which was a vegetarian protein substitute for meat.
In the green Mediterranean group, the amount of polyphenols doubled compared to the Mediterranean group. In addition, all three groups participated in an aerobic-based exercise program, including a free gym membership. Subjects had brain MRI scans before and after the experiment that measured volumes of brain regions associated with natural aging.
Participants were initially selected based on the size of the abdominal circumference or dyslipidemia (a disorder in blood lipid metabolism). They are all employees of the Dimona Nuclear Research Center, so the lunch provided was monitored.
Mediterranean diet (Photo: ShutterStock)
The experiment was led by Prof. Iris Shai of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and an adjunct professor at Harvard University, together with Dr. Alon Kaplan, Prof. Ilan Sheleff, Prof. Galia Avidan, Prof. Nachshon Miran of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and several international teams of brain experts from Germany, the United States and Canada.
The researchers were surprised to identify dramatic changes in brain degeneration (decreased hippocampus volume and expansion of lateral cavity volume) within 18 months, with the rate of degeneration accelerating significantly from age 50 onwards. The researchers found a significant reduction in the rate of brain degeneration among participants of Mediterranean diets, and especially among participants of the green Mediterranean diet. Among a large panel of blood markers, improved glucose control was the factor most significantly associated with slowing brain aging. Another proof of the link between diabetes and dementia. Increased consumption of green tea, green water plant daquid, and walnuts along with reduced consumption of red and processed meat have been significantly associated with a slowdown in brain anatomical markers associated with brain aging. The researchers were able to identify polyphenols in the urine from the green diet that have been linked to slowing brain aging.
"The beneficial link between a green Mediterranean diet and age-related neurodegeneration may be partly explained by an abundance of polyphenols," explained Prof. Iris Shai, lead researcher. "Polyphenols are found in plant food sources that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory metabolites. These polyphenols can cross the blood-brain barrier, reduce nerve inflammation and stimulate cell proliferation and adult hippocampal neurogenesis."
"Our findings may point to a simple, safe and promising way to slow age-related neurodegeneration by adhering to a green-Mediterranean diet," concluded Dr. Alon Kaplan.
- nutrition and diet
- Preventive nutrition
- Mediterranean diet