Age-defying eats: New research on brain-boosting power of the Mediterranean Diet

Recent research indicates that a Mediterranean diet can slow brain aging.

A new study found weight loss due to this diet reduced the aging of participants’ brains. The participants’ brain age appeared almost nine months younger for every 1% reduction in body weight.

These findings underscore the significant impact of dietary habits on brain health.

According to new study results from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, switching to a Green Mediterranean Diet positively affects brain health [1]. Weight loss attenuated brain aging in a sub-study of the DIRECT-PLUS trial.

DIRECT PLUS was a large-scale, long-term clinical trial over 18 months among 300 participants. The sub-study was conducted by Prof. Galia Avidan of the Department of Psychology and Dr Gidon Levakov, a former graduate student at the Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

Their findings were published recently in eLife [2].

The more extensive study was led by Prof Iris Shai of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, an adjunct Professor from the Harvard School of Public Health and an honorary professor at the University of Leipzig, Germany, along with her graduate student Dr Alon Kaplan and colleagues from Harvard and Leipzig Universities.

Obesity is linked with the brain aging faster than would usually be expected. Researchers can capture this process by calculating a person’s ‘brain age’ – how old their brain appears on detailed scans, regardless of chronological age.

This approach also helps to check how certain factors, like lifestyle, can influence brain aging over relatively short time scales.

Levakov, Kaplan, Shai and Avidan studied 102 individuals who met the criteria for obesity.

The participants received a brain scan at the beginning and the end of the program; more tests and measurements were also conducted to capture other biological processes affected by obesity, such as liver health. In order to analyze the impact of lifestyle intervention on the aging trajectory, brain scans were done at the beginning and the end of the study.

The results revealed that a reduction in body weight of 1% led to the participants’ brain age being almost nine months younger than the expected brain age after 18 months. This reduced aging was associated with changes in other biological measures, such as decreased liver fat and liver enzymes.

Increases in liver fat and the production of specific liver enzymes were previously shown to affect brain health in Alzheimer’s disease negatively. “Our study highlights the importance of a healthy lifestyle, including lower consumption of processed food, sweets, and beverages, in maintaining brain health,” says Dr Levakov.

“We were encouraged to find that even a weight loss of 1% was sufficient to affect brain health and lead to a 9-month reduction in brain age,” says Prof Avidan.

The findings show that lifestyle interventions that promote weight loss can benefit the aging trajectory of the brain seen with obesity.

The following steps will include determining whether slowing down obesity-driven brain aging results in better patient clinical outcomes. In addition, the study shows a potential strategy to evaluate the success of lifestyle changes on brain health.

With global rates of obesity rising, identifying interventions that positively impact brain health could have significant clinical, educational, and social impacts. Researchers from the DIRECT-PLUS trial introduced the concept of a green Mediterranean diet high in polyphenols.

This modified Mediterranean diet is distinct from the traditional Mediterranean diet because of its more abundant dietary polyphenols (phytochemicals, secondary metabolites of plant compounds that offer various health benefits) and lower red/processed meat.

Over the 18 months, the green-Mediterranean dieters consumed walnuts (28 grams) along with 3-4 cups of green tea per day and 1 cup of Wolffia-globosa (Mankai) plant green shake of duckweed. The aquatic green plant Mankai is high in bioavailable iron, B12, 200 polyphenols and protein, therefore a good substitute for meat.

Additional researchers included: Anat Yaskolka Meir, Ehud Rinott, Gal Tsaban, Hila Zelicha, and Prof. Ilan Shelef of BGU, as well as Matthias Blüher, Uta Ceglarek, Michael Stumvoll of the University of Leipzig.

Among the funding sources for this project are the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – Project number 209933838- SFB 1052; the Rosetrees Trust (grant A2623); Israel Ministry of Health grant 87472511; Israel Ministry of Science and Technology grant 3-13604; and the California Walnut Commission.

All funding providers required access to the study results before publication, as they were not involved in any phase of the study’s design, conduct or analysis [3].


Photograph: RossHelen/Envato
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