Healthy diets and weight loss can help reduce brain aging

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Could Mediterranean diets help maintain brain health by promoting a healthy weight? Image credit: Alba Vitta/Stocksy
  • Brain health is a critical component of health and well-being. The brain aging faster than the rest of the body may be linked to several conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
  • One study found that reducing weight can help improve brain aging. Specific dietary interventions, including the Mediterranean diet and the green Mediterranean diet, have benefited study participants.
  • Individuals interested in helpful dietary interventions can seek help from appropriate nutrition specialists.

Brain aging can have significant clinical implications. Researchers are still trying to understand how brain aging affects health and how lifestyle interventions can slow brain aging.

A study published in and Life looked into how weight loss can help slow brain aging.

The researchers looked at three diets among people with obesity:

The researchers found that weight reduction among participants was associated with slower rates of brain aging. The findings indicate the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and the impact of this on brain age.

The brain is a critical organ in the body, so its well-being is essential for the rest of the body to function properly. Age affects the functioning of the brain, leading to certain natural declines.

However, lifestyle interventions may help with brain health and functioning. Some research suggests that eating a healthy diet and being physically active can help brain function.

Dr. Brett Osborn, a neurosurgeon, physician and board-certified president and founder of the Senolytix weight-loss medical clinic, who was not involved in the study explained to Medical News Today:

The term brain aging refers to the natural process of changes that occur in the brain as a person ages. It is a normal part of the aging process and is characterized by a gradual decline in various cognitive functions. The brain, no different than any other organ at a basic level, is susceptible to free radical (oxidative) damage and therefore aging. As the damage accumulates, and this occurs at varying rates depending on a number of mostly environmental factors, cognitive function falters and the risk of neurological disorders increases.

The researchers in the current study explain that estimating someone’s brain age involves comparing a person’s brain to the brains of a healthy control group.

Brain age greater than chronological age is associated with several conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, and even a higher mortality rate.

Researchers are still trying to understand how lifestyle interventions can slow brain aging.

In this study, the researchers wanted to examine the impact of weight loss on brain aging. The researchers included 102 participants with obesity. Participants were part of the randomized controlled trial of dietary intervention unprocessed polyphenols.

All participants engaged in physical activity and ate one of three specific diets: a diet that follows healthy eating guidelines, the Mediterranean diet, or a green Mediterranean diet. The lifestyle interventions lasted 18 months.

The green Mediterranean diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet, emphasizing many plant-based food sources and moderate amounts of animal protein.

Unlike more traditional versions of the Mediterranean diet, the green Mediterranean diet contains even more plant-based foods, in addition to green tea and water plant Wolffia globosa or Mankai, also known as duckweed.

Kailey Proctor, a registered dietitian at the City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center in Irvine, California, explained that: The green Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant proteins and eliminates red meats and processed meats. Think of it as a vegetarian type of bland diet.

In the current study, researchers found that weight loss was associated with slower rates of brain aging. They also found that consuming fewer processed foods and sweets was associated with reduced brain aging.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Gidon Levakov, a former postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, explained the study’s key findings to MNT extension.

Our research revealed several key findings. First, we observed that a lifestyle intervention in people with obesity led to a reduction in brain aging, he told us.

Specifically, we found that a 1% reduction in body weight resulted in the participants’ brains appearing nearly 9 months younger than expected after 18 months. Additionally, these improvements in brain aging were associated with positive changes in other biological measures, such as decreased liver fat and liver enzymes, Dr. Levakov noted.

The results indicate that weight loss interventions may provide some individuals with cognitive and physical benefits. Dr. Osborn further commented with his thoughts on the study results:

The study results are not surprising, as the brain and all other tissues undergo accelerated aging in the context of high levels of body inflammation, which are pathognomonic of the obese body type. This is one of the many reasons why almost all age-related diseases (i.e. cancer, diabetes, coronary heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease) occur at a much higher incidence in the obese population.

The study also has some fundamental limitations. First, it cannot demonstrate that weight loss or following a specific diet directly causes an improvement in brain aging.

Second, the study included only a small number of participants, with an odd number of men and women, making it risky to generalize the findings. The researchers also had to rely on participants’ self-assessment of diet, which can increase the risk of some inaccuracies.

The study looked at a specific subpopulation that included individuals with obesity and abnormal lipid levels. Therefore, the results do not necessarily reflect how the intervention would help the general population.

The study also lacked a control group, which limits the study results. Future studies may include more diverse samples with a longer follow-up period.

Dr. Levakov noted that:

Exploring the long-term effects of lifestyle interventions on brain aging and studying the specific components of these interventions that contribute most significantly to the observed improvements are important avenues for future research. Furthermore, the generalizability of our findings should be evaluated by studying individuals with different levels of obesity and different populations.

Research has indicated that specific diets, including the green Mediterranean diet, may be particularly beneficial for brain aging and health.

However, Dr Levakov stressed: We found a beneficial effect of weight loss on attenuating brain age regardless of the intervention group. Thus, our finding cannot determine whether one type of diet was superior to the others.

However, the study authors note that previous research has linked following a Mediterranean diet with increased levels of gray matter in the brain and improvements in cardiometabolic health.

Some people may benefit from a Mediterranean or green Mediterranean diet. Proctor offered the following guide to MNT extension:

The plant-based foods in a green Mediterranean diet were selected because they are high in healthful polyphenols and include many that you may already be eating and enjoying, such as green tea and nuts [] The essentials of the green Mediterranean diet are a focus on balancing plant protein and animal protein, eliminating red meat and processed meat, and limiting your daily calorie intake. Your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist can help you understand the benefits, restrictions, and how to get started.

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