Methods: Dietary patterns were derived from a 130-item food frequency questionnaire for 511 individuals in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 (mean age 79.3 ± 0.6 years). Composite variables for global cognitive function, visuospatial ability, processing speed, memory, and verbal ability were assessed. Brain volumes and white matter microstructure were assessed in participants (n = 358) who also underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging.
Results: A Mediterranean-style dietary pattern and a processed dietary pattern were identified using principal component analysis of food frequency questionnaire items. In fully-adjusted linear regression models, adherence to the Mediterranean-style pattern was associated with better verbal ability (β = 0.121, P = 0.002). Associations with global cognitive function (β = 0.094, P = 0.043), visuospatial ability (β = 0.113, P = 0.019), and memory (β = 0.105, P = 0.029) did not survive correction for multiple comparisons. Associations between the processed pattern and lower cognitive scores were attenuated by around 50% following adjustment for prior (childhood) cognitive ability; only an association with verbal ability remained (β = -0.130, P = 0.001). Neither dietary pattern was associated with brain volumes or white matter microstructure. Specific Mediterranean diet features— green leafy vegetables and a low intake of red meat—were associated with better cognitive functioning.
Conclusions: These observational findings suggest that adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with better cognitive functioning, but not better brain structural integrity, in older adults.
- Mediterranean diet
- older adults
- cognitive function
- dietary patterns