The study followed 192 people with Alzheimer's disease in New York for an average of four and a half years. During that time, 85 of the people died. Researchers found that those who most closely followed a Mediterranean diet were 76 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who followed the diet the least.
"The more closely people followed the Mediterranean diet, the more they reduced their mortality," said study author Nikos Scarmeas, MD, MSc, of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, and member of the American Academy of Neurology.
"For example, Alzheimer's patients who adhered to the diet to a moderate degree lived an average 1.3 years longer than those people who least adhered to the diet. And those Alzheimer's patients who followed the diet very religiously lived an average four years longer."
Previous research by Scarmeas and his colleagues demonstrated that healthy people who eat a Mediterranean diet lower their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Studies have also shown that healthy people who follow a Mediterranean diet live longer than those who eat a more traditional Western diet, higher in saturated fat and meats and lower in fruits and vegetables.
"New benefits of this diet keep coming out," said Scarmeas. "We need to do more research to determine whether eating a Mediterranean diet also helps Alzheimer's patients have slower rates of cognitive decline, maintain their daily living skills, and have a better quality of life."
The Mediterranean diet includes a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, fish, monounsaturated fatty acids; a low intake of saturated fatty acids, dairy products, meat and poultry; and a mild to moderate amount of alcohol.