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Mediterranean diet and physical exercise cut risk of Alzheimer's disease

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Mediterranean diet, physical activity cut dementia risk

Alzheimer's disease, a major form of dementia, has no cure.  Luckily, diet and lifestyle can be modified to reduce the risk.  For instance, Mediterranean diet and physical activity may each independently reduce the risk of the condition, according to a study in the Aug 2009 issue of Journal of American Medical Association.

Dr. N. Scarmeas and colleagues of Taub Institute for Research in Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain and Department of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center found men and women those who adhered most closely to Mediterranean diet were 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease during a average of 5.4-year follow-up, compared to those who adhered to the diet least closely.

The researchers also found those who most actively engaged in physical activity were up to 33 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's compared with those who were least active. 

For the study, Scarneas et al. followed 1880 community-dwelling elderly people who lived without dementia at baseline in New York for their dietary habits and physical activity.

Adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet was assessed on a scale of 0-9, or trichotomized into low, middle, or high and dichotomized into low and high.  Physical activity was trichotomized into no physical activity, some, and much and dichotomized into low and high.  Neurological and neuropsychological measures were conducted about every 1.5 years from 1992 to 2006.

During the 5.4-year follow-up, 282 incident cases of Alzheimer's were identified.

Those who adhered to the Mediterranean diet with a high score were at 40 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer, compared to those on the diet with a low score.  A Mediterranean diet with a middle score did not seem to help compared to a diet with a low score.

Those who engaged in some physical activity or much physical activity were at a 25 percent or 33 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, respectively, compared with those who did no physical activity.

Men and women who had neither followed Mediterranean diet nor much physical activity had an absolute Alzheimer's risk of 19 percent. This is compared to 12 percent for those who followed both high scored Mediterranean diet and engaged in much physical activity – a difference of 45 percent.

The researchers concluded "both higher Mediterranean-type diet adherence and higher physical activity were independently associated with reduced risk for AD (Alzheimer's disease)."

David Liu and editing by Denise Reynolds

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