NEWS — 11 December 2013

Eat a Mediterranean diet to fight dementia, say top doctors

By Shelley Marsden

A GROUP of doctors have written an open letter to the Health Secretary, claiming that it’s not ‘dubious’ drugs but a balanced, Mediterranean diet that should be used to battle dementia.

In the letter, they said trying to persuade people to eat healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil was “possibly the best strategy currently available” for preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s and other diseases that affect the memory.

They said their opinion was backed up by several high-quality studies, but maintained that that ‘compelling’ evidence has on the most part been ignored.

Grace Cassidy of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland told the Irish World: “We would always recommend a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables. This, along with regular exercise and maintaining an active social life (including activities such as taking up a new hobby) can help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

“However as there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia even if you do take care of your body, brain and heart you may still unfortunately develop Alzheimers.”

Doctors that signed the open letter include Dr Clare Gerada, the former chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, and Dr David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum.

It reads: ‘We hope this crisis can be seen as an opportunity towards a real policy change, namely towards a Mediterranean diet, rather than towards the dubious benefits of most drugs.’

It continues that the evidence “strongly suggests” that lifestyle improvements will have a “far greater effect” on dementia than the taking of drugs.

Dementia experts from the G8 countries are coming to London soon for a summit to be hosted by David Cameron.

The GP who organised the open letter was Dr Simon Poole, who said he believed pharmaceutical companies can do little as regards the condition.

He said: “They talk up their medicine and then it is very often a damp squib. We want some sort of focus on prevention. Educating all generations, including our children, in the importance of a good diet in maintaining health in old age is a project which will take years, but is absolutely essential.

“We are calling upon policymakers to not only support the care and treatment of those who are already suffering from dementia, but to make significant investments in work which will see benefits beyond the period of one or two parliaments.”

He added that people may be discouraged by the perceived cost of a Mediterranean diet, but added that on the whole, it need not cost more than any other.

A recent review by Exeter University, nine studies out of 12 came to the conclusion that a Mediterranean diet allows people to stay mentally sharper for longer and have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s.

Last year, Irish scientists developed dementia testing that can spot early indicators of the disease within five minutes.

The Quick Mild Cognitive Impairment (Qmci) screen was developed by Prof Willie Molloy and Dr Rónán O Caoimh at UCC and St Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork and aims specifically to discover whether people have mild cognitive impairment (Qmci), which could lead to dementia.

In the UK there are 800,000 people with dementia, with numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2021 and to 1.7 million by 2050. In Ireland, Alzheimer’s and related dementia currently affects approximately 38,000 people but, due to the country’s rapidly ageing population, that number is predicted to rise to 58,000 by 2021 and 104,000 by 2036.

The G8 Dementia Summit, which aims to develop co-ordinated global action on dementia, takes place at Lancaster House, London this Wednesday, December 11.

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