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Green Mediterranean diet can slow brain atrophy, Israeli-led study suggests

Ben-Gurion University trial shows consumption of green tea, duckweed and walnuts may significantly reduce age-related brain damage, especially among over-50s

Illustrative: A green shake, like the ones in the diet developed by Prof. Iris Shai (id-art via iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: A green shake, like the ones in the diet developed by Prof. Iris Shai (id-art via iStock by Getty Images)

Israeli researchers have discovered that age-related brain atrophy can be slowed with a green Mediterranean diet, high in polyphenols — a type of micronutrient naturally occurring in plants — and low in red and processed meat.

The results of the study were published on Tuesday in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The trial was led by Prof. Iris Shai and Dr. Alon Kaplan from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, together with several international teams of brain experts.

The study saw 284 participants aged 31-82 — all employees at the Dimona Nuclear Research Center — randomly divided into three groups that would follow a diet based on set guidelines: a healthy diet, a Mediterranean diet, and a green Mediterranean diet.

Both groups following a Mediterranean-style diet were additionally given walnuts to eat, while those on the green Mediterranean diet were also given three-four cups of green tea daily and a shake made of Mankai, an aquatic plant. Shai has acted as an adviser to an Israeli company marketing the product.

All participants underwent a full brain MRI scan before and after the study. They also received free gym memberships and undertook daily physical exercise.

Prof. Iris Shai (Dani Machlis/BGU)

Researchers found a significant decrease in age-related brain damage among those who adhered to both forms of Mediterranean diet, with a greater slowdown in damage observed among the green diet group.

The most significant improvement was seen in participants over the age of 50 — an age group particularly prone to rapid mental atrophy.

Participants who followed those two diets also showed an improvement in insulin sensitivity, a further example of a slowdown in damage to brain activity.

“The beneficial association between the green Mediterranean diet and age-related neurodegeneration might be partially explained by the abundance of polyphenols in plant-based food sources which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory metabolites,” Shai said in a statement, explaining that the micronutrients can reduce inflammation in the brain and increase brain connectivity.

“Our findings might suggest a simple, safe, and promising avenue to slow age-related neurodegeneration by adhering to a green-Mediterranean diet,” Kaplan said in the statement.

Shai led similar research, which developed a diet that significantly cuts liver fat by tweaking the traditional Mediterranean regimen to include special greens.

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