Slimming down with the Mediterranean diet could make your brain age backwards

BE’ER SHEVA, Israel — If there’s one diet that’s received consistent attention in recent years, it’s the Mediterranean diet. The fruit, veggie, olive oil, and fish-focused diet has been connected to a host of health benefits. Now, researchers have found another — it may slow down brain aging.

In an 18-month clinical trial with 300 participants, researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that a reduction in body weight of one percent led to the participants’ brain age being almost nine months younger than their expected brain age. The reduced aging was in line with other biological metrics such as lower liver fat and enzymes.

Obesity is typically associated with the brain aging faster than expected, subsequently leading to faster cognitive decline. Researchers can calculate a person’s “brain age” by using detailed scans in order to track how lifestyle factors can influence brain aging over relatively short periods of time. For this work, the team did exactly that. They performed brain scans on 102 people they classified as obese at the start and end of the 18-month Mediterranean diet program.

Mediterranean diet
Substituting Western-type diet products with Mediterranean could also decrease the risk of other chronic diseases.
(© fascinadora –

They also collected information on other things affected by obesity like liver health. Higher liver fat levels and elevated liver enzymes have previously been associated with Alzheimer’s disease onset, making them important markers to include in this type of research.

“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 Professor Galia Avidan, of the Department of Psychology, in a university release.

This trial is the first of its kind to introduce the green-Mediterranean diet, a modified version of the traditional Mediterranean diet that emphasizes polyphenols, which are secondary nutrients in plant-based foods that offer several health benefits. On this diet, eaters consume 28 grams of walnuts, three to four cups of green tea, and one cup of Wolffia-globosa (Mankai) plant green shake of duckweed per day. The Mankai plant is high in iron, B12, protein, and 200 kinds of polyphenols. The protein content is enough to make the plant a reliable substitute for meat, the researchers say.

The team hopes that their research adds to existing evidence in support of focusing on a healthy diet for optimal brain health and prevention of cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“Our study highlights the importance of a healthy lifestyle, including lower consumption of processed food, sweets, and beverages, in maintaining brain health,” says Dr. Gidon Levakov, a former graduate student at the Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

The findings are published in the journal eLife.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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  1. Research hints that embracing the Mediterranean diet might not only trim the waistline but also reverse brain aging. An enticing reason to explore this dietary lifestyle!

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