Two recently published studies add to the large body of evidence that the Mediterranean diet is protective against a number of serious health conditions, from depression to infertility, making us wonder: Is there anything the Mediterranean diet can’t do?
For the first study, published in the journal Cancers, researchers from the University of South Australia examined plasma micronutrient levels, or blood levels of micronutrients obtained from food, in prostate cancer patients and compared them to plasma micronutrient levels from healthy participants. They found that patients diagnosed with prostate cancer showed low levels of the micronutrients lutein, lycopene, alpha-carotene, and selenium, and increased levels of iron, sulfur, and calcium compared to the control group.
People with lycopene levels of less than 0.25 micrograms (ug) per milliliter (mL) and selenium levels of less than 120ug/L are at increased risk of developing prostate cancer as well as DNA damage caused by radiation.
These micronutrients are abundant in the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish. Foods such as tomatoes, melons, papayas, grapes, peaches, watermelons, and cranberries are high in lycopene, and white meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, and nuts are rich in selenium. All these foods feature prominently in Mediterranean diet recommendations.
“Our recommendation is to adopt a Mediterranean diet enlisting the help of a dietician because people absorb nutrients in different ways, depending on the food, the digestive system, the person’s genotype and possibly their microbiome,” study co-author Permal Deo of the University of South Australia said in a release.
More research is necessary, however, to confirm if these results are repeatable across demographics, as this study had a small sample size, 116 patients, and was comprised entirely of white men.
The second study backs up previous research that found the Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of dementia. Researchers from Newcastle University in England examined data from 60,298 people in the UK Biobank and scored participants based on how closely their diet mirrored a Mediterranean diet. Participants were followed for ten years, during which 882 developed dementia.
The research team, led by Dr. Oliver Shannon of Newcastle University, also found that those who followed Mediterranean-like diets were less likely to develop dementia over the study period, even if they were at high genetic risk for developing the condition.
“Dementia impacts the lives of millions of individuals throughout the world, and there are currently limited options for treating this condition,” Shannon said in a statement for the study. “Finding ways to reduce our risk of developing dementia is, therefore, a major priority for researchers and clinicians. Our study suggests that eating a more Mediterranean-like diet could be one strategy to help individuals lower their risk of dementia.”
Participants self-reported ethnicity, and all identified as white and British or Irish. Additional research is necessary to determine if the Mediterranean diet or diets with similar foods protect against dementia in other populations globally.
“The findings from this large population-based study underscore the long-term brain health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats,” co-author Janice Ranson of Exeter University explained. “The protective effect of this diet against dementia was evident regardless of a person’s genetic risk, and so this is likely to be a beneficial lifestyle choice for people looking to make healthy dietary choices and reduce their risk of dementia.”