The Mediterranean diet has long been touted as healthy, given its focus on fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy fats such as olive oil and fish.
Now, University of B.C. researchers say they have found a link between this type of diet and brain health for Parkinson’s disease, and say there is strong evidence it may delay the onset of the disease by as much as 17 years in women and eight years in men.
In a study of 176 participants, researchers looked at the effects of what they call the MIND diet, which combines the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet. The DASH diet encourages people to reduce their sodium and eat a variety of foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.
The MIND diet has been linked with the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline, but this is the first time scientists have found a link with delaying the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
In a study of 176 participants, researchers looked at adherence to these types of diets, characterized by reduced meat intake and a focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats, and the age of Parkinson’s onset.
Researchers looked at food frequency questionnaires from 167 participants with Parkinson’s, and 119 controls. They were scored for their adherence to a MIND diet and two versions of a Mediterranean diet.
What they found was that women adhered more closely to the MIND diet than the men, and that women on this diet experienced up to 17.4 years of a delay in onset. They also discovered that the Greek Mediterranean diet was also significantly associated with later onset, and delayed onset for men up to 8.4 years.
UBC says the MIND diet showed a more significant impact on women’s health, whereas the Mediterranean diet did that for the men. They say this is noteworthy because 60 per cent of those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are men.
Lead researcher, Avril Metcalfe-Roach, a PhD student at UBC’s Michael Smith Labs, says by understanding the sex differences between the MIND and Mediterranean diets, researchers then might better understand the sex differences that drive Parkinson’s disease.
“There is so much benefit to eating healthy,” said Metcalfe-Roach in a statement released by UBC. “It is in everybody’s best interest to try to keep your microbiome healthy, to try and eat a rich variety of plant-based and other healthy foods. This study provides even more evidence for what we already know — that we should be trying to eat healthy and taking care of ourselves.”
Dr. Brett Finlay, professor in the departments of biochemistry and molecular biology, and microbiology and immunology at UBC, added that the research also shows it’s not just one disease that healthy eating can affect, but several of these cognitive diseases.
The Western diet, common in North America, is notorious for its high levels of processed and fried foods, sugar and red meat — a diet that has been linked to increased prevalence and severity of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, the study notes.
The Mediterranean diet, however, is associated with reduced rates of cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases, and the study concludes that there is a “strong correlation” between age of onset of Parkinson’s disease and dietary habits, suggesting that nutritional strategies may be an effective tool to delay onset.