Evidence for a close relationship between the brain and overall health, including our ability to fend off diseases, continues to emerge. In a study published online last month in Neurology, for example, scientists found that patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) who ate a diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may have less disability and fewer symptoms than patients with less healthy eating habits.
The study involved nearly 7,000 patients with a variety of MS types who answered questions about their diet as part of the North American Research Committee registry. For study purposes, a healthy diet was defined as eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains and less sugar from desserts and sweetened beverages and less red and processed meat. Researchers looked at participants’ overall healthy lifestyle, characterized as having a desirable weight, taking part in regular physical activity, eating a better-than-average diet, and not smoking.
The findings were eye-opening: Patients in the “healthiest diet” group were 20% less likely to have severe physical disability than those in “least healthy diet” group. These findings held up after researchers adjusted for age and for how long the study participants had had MS. Individuals with the healthiest diets were also about 20% less likely to have severe depression than individuals with the least healthy diet.
Early last year, another study also published online in Neurology showed that older people who followed a Mediterranean diet—featuring large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans, and cereal grains such as wheat and rice; moderate amounts of fish, dairy, and wine; and limited red meat and poultry—retained more brain volume over a 3-year period than those who did not adhere to the diet as rigidly.
“As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory,” said study author Michelle Luciano, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.”
The participants varied in how closely their dietary habits followed the Mediterranean diet principles. People who did not adhere as closely to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have a higher loss of total brain volume over 3 years than people who followed the diet more closely. The variation in dietary habits, the scientists concluded, accounted for 0.5% of the variation in total brain volume.
As several articles in this month’s Neurology focus issue demonstrate, evidence for the link between the brain, overall health, and disease symptoms continues to grow. In fact, it is quite likely that we are just scratching the surface of the powerful mind-body connection.
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