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Senior's Health: Mediterranean diet may cut Alzheimer's risk

And omega-3 fatty acid supplements might slow cognitive decline in mild cases

A Mediterranean diet and fish oil supplements are potential weapons in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease, according to recent research.

In one study, Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas and his colleagues at Columbia University Medical Center in New York found that eating a Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia that affects memory, language and behaviour.

The researchers studied 1,984 adults with an average age of 76. Of all the participants, 194 already had Alzheimer’s and 1,790 did not.

Their diets over the previous year were ranked from a low of zero to a high of nine for how closely they adhered to a Mediterranean-style diet, which includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals and fish, moderate amounts of alcohol, and reduced intake of red meat and dairy products.

For each additional unit on the diet score, risk for Alzheimer’s disease decreased by 19 to 24 per cent.

Those who were in the top one-third of the diet scores had 68 per cent lower odds of having Alzheimer’s disease than those in the bottom one-third, after researchers considered other factors such as age and weight.

In another study, Swedish researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acid supplements might slow mental decline in some people with very mild Alzheimer’s disease.

Earlier studies have shown that eating fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, might be protective against Alzheimer’s disease, so Dr. Yvonne Freund-Levi from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm set out to see if supplements provide similar protection.

The study was relatively small, involving 174 people, and short, lasting one year, but it did produce some encouraging results. Omega-3 fatty acids reduced cognitive decline compared with inactive supplements in those mildly affected by the disease, but not in those with more advanced Alzheimer’s disease.