Mediterranean Diet Prevents Brain Aging

As we advance in age, we may think that forgetfulness just comes with the territory. But in reality, memory loss—and especially dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease—aren’t “normal” parts of aging.

The lifestyle choices you make today can help determine how well your brain ages over time. When it comes to dementia and memory loss, your best option is to focus on prevention. And new research shows that one of the best things you can do to protect against age-related brain shrinkage and resulting declines in memory is to follow a Mediterranean-type diet.

The Mediterranean diet is a healthy lifestyle and eating approach that is delicious, nutritious, and easy to follow and maintain over the long term.

Dietary staples include fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, olives and olive oil, and herbs and spices. Poultry and eggs are eaten in moderation. Red wine, while not mandatory, is also among the items enjoyed occasionally.

Heart-healthy unsaturated fats are frequently consumed—mainly in the form of olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Plus, significant levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids are obtained from fish.

Notably missing from this list: processed food, fatty red meats, and sweets. Dairy is also limited or restricted. All of these types of foods are usually reserved for very special occasions or avoided altogether.

Overwhelming research has shown that the Mediterranean diet promotes better cardiovascular health and blood sugar control, as well as cognitive function. Specifically, a recent study published in the journal Neurology reveals that this style of eating is linked to greater brain volume (and less age-related shrinkage), which slows down the cognitive aging process.1

In this fascinating study, researchers used MRIs to measure brain volume, including gray and white matter and cortical thickness, of 674 elderly adults without dementia. (The cerebral cortex is the area of the brain that plays a key role in memory, attention, awareness, thought, language, etc.)

The researchers also conducted food questionnaires, which assessed how closely over the previous year the participants followed nine components of the Mediterranean diet: high consumption of vegetables, legumes, cereals, fish, fruits, and nuts; eating plenty of healthy fats like olive oil while avoiding unhealthy fats; moderate consumption of alcohol such as red wine; and low consumption of meats and dairy.

The results indicated that the people whose diets included at least five of the nine components of the Mediterranean diet had brain volume that was an average of 13.11 millimeters greater than those who did not. The most protective elements of the Mediterranean diet appeared to be lower meat and higher fish intake.

The researchers concluded that adherence to the Mediterranean diet “was associated with less brain atrophy, with an effect similar to 5 years of aging.”

The Inflammation Factor

That fish consumption ended up being one of the most important protective factors is no surprise, at least to me. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are known to be inflammatory in nature. Additionally, the membranes of brain cells (neurons) are highly enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, mainly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and this fatty acid in particular is critical for maintaining healthy brain function and preventing brain aging. So fatty fish such as salmon, trout, and mackerel contains high levels of anti-inflammatory, brain preserving omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA, which counteract destructive inflammation and enhance the function and growth of the brain.

As you’re likely aware, the typical American lifestyle (poor diet, lack of exercise, and uncontrolled or excessive mental and emotional stress) is notoriously pro-inflammatory. So just your day-to-day activity (or inactivity) can unknowingly set the stage for chronic, low-grade inflammation.

Along with following a Mediterranean-type diet, I also encourage you to exercise. Numerous studies reveal that healthy people who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function. A meta-analysis conducted in 2009 concluded that increased physical activity reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 45 percent. 2

Exercising for 30 to 60 minutes a day, several times a week, appears to markedly enhance the brain’s nerve-to-nerve connections—a process that naturally occurs with aging. Physical activity also helps the brain by keeping your blood flowing and increasing certain chemicals and messengers that protect the brain from damage. Additionally, the right types of exercise reduce inflammation, which, as mentioned earlier, is an important driver of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, and numerous other diseases.

So don’t wait. Start exercising and eating an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean-type diet today to keep your brain as healthy as possible for decades to come.


  1. Gu Y, et al. Neurology. 2015 Nov 17;85(20):1744-51.
  2. Hamer M and Chida Y. Psychol Med. 2009 Jan;39(1):3-11.

About Author

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews is the President of Gene Smart and the leader of our Gene Smart team. His mission is to provide supplements to help you control your inflammation, your weight, and your life, based on the latest scientific information.

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