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An observational study of older adults found that the Mediterranean diet may help preserve the connections between neurons in the brain, by preserving the microstructure in the white matter of the brain. This appeared to have a strong cognitive benefit - equal up to 10 years of delayed cognitive aging in those who adhered to the Mediterranean diet most closely. So if you haven't started already, try eating what the Mediterranean diet stresses: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, olive oil, some fish, and some wine. And cut back on highly processed foods, meat, and high fat foods. It's not one or two foods, but overall diet that is important. From Medscape:

Mediterranean Diet May Preserve Brain Structural Connectivity

The Mediterranean diet may help preserve structural connectivity in the brain in older adults, results of a French study hint. Greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with preserved microstructure in extensive areas of the white matter up to a decade later, the study team found. And this appeared to be related to strong cognitive benefit, equal to up to 10 years of delayed cognitive aging for those with the greatest adherence, they say....The study was published online July 16 in Alzheimer's & Dementia. The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer's disease, but the underlying mechanisms have been unclear.

The new findings are based on 146 nondemented older adults in the Bordeaux Three-City study, a prospective cohort initiated in 1999-2000 to study vascular risk factors for dementia. Participants provided information on their diet in 2001-2002 (at a mean age of 73 years), underwent brain MRI an average of 9 years later (including diffusion tensor imaging)...On the basis of dietary assessment, 26% of participants had a low Mediterranean diet (MedDi) score of 0 to 3, indicating poor adherence to the diet; 47% had medium scores (4 or 5); and 27% had higher scores (6 to 8) representing the best adherence to the diet.

In adjusted analysis, there was no significant association between the MedDi score and grey matter or white matter volume. However, there was a strong association between the MedDi and diffusion tensor imaging patterns, suggesting that higher MeDi adherence was associated with a "general pattern of preserved WM [white matter] microstructure in multiple bundles," the researchers say. And preserved white matter microstructure with higher adherence to the MedDi "appeared to delay cognitive aging by up to 10 years."

"Our results suggest that the Mediterranean diet helps preserve the connections between neurons, which appear to be damaged with aging, vascular brain diseases and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's dementia," Dr Samieri told Medscape Medical News. "In addition, the regions which appeared preserved with greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet were extended and were not specific to a particular disease, suggesting that the Mediterranean diet may have the potential to prevent not only stroke (as previously demonstrated with the PREDIMED [Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea] trial) but also multiple age-related brain pathologies," she added.

The added finding that none of the individual components of the Mediterranean diet was strongly associated with imaging results "supports our hypothesis that overall diet quality may be more important to preserve brain structure than any single food," they write.

Much has been written in the past few months on how to keep your brain sharp and avoid cognitive and memory declines due to aging, and especially how to lower the risk of dementia.

Many studies have shown the following to be beneficial to brain health: exercise (any exercise, including walking, is good), having friends and social networks to interact with, eating a lot of healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), seeds, nuts, and fish), having a purpose in life, using the computer, playing video games (action puzzle games such as Portal 2 and NeuroRacer, but according to one study - not Lumosity), participating in arts or crafts, and learning new skills - that is, try out and learn new things (a musical instrument, a new language, take a class, a new craft, etc), or even visit new places.

Many of these can be summarized as: feed your brain and body, and keep your brain and body active. Here is one recent study of aging, from Medical Xpress:

Civic engagement may stave off brain atrophy, improve memory

Instead of shrinking as expected, as part of the normal aging process, the memory center in the brains of seniors maintained their size and, in men, grew modestly after two years in a program that engaged them in meaningful and social activities, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research suggests. At the same time, those with larger increases in the brain's volume over two years also saw the greatest improvements on memory tests, showing a direct correlation between brain volume and the reversal of a type of cognitive decline linked to increased risk for Alzheimer's disease.

The research, published online in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, studied participants in the Baltimore Experience Corps, a program that brings retired people into public schools to serve as mentors to young children, working with teachers to help them learn to read in understaffed school libraries."By helping others, participants are helping themselves in ways beyond just feeding their souls. They are helping their brains. The brain shrinks as part of aging, but with this program we appear to have stopped that shrinkage and are reversing part of the aging process."

For the study, Carlson and her colleagues randomized 111 men and women to either participate in the Experience Corps (58) or not (53).... The control arm of the study, those not involved in Experience Corps, exhibited age-related shrinkage in brain volumes. Typically, annual rates of atrophy in adults over age 65 range from .8 percent to two percent. The men who were enrolled in Experience Corps, however, showed a .7 percent to 1.6 percent increase in brain volumes over the course of two years.