Nutraceutical properties of Mediterranean diet and cognitive decline: possible underlying mechanisms

J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;22(3):715-40. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2010-100942.


Recent prospective studies provided evidence that higher adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet could be associated with slower cognitive decline, reduced risk of progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer's disease (AD), reduced risk of AD, and decreased mortality in AD patients. Furthermore, the Mediterranean diet (MeDi) combines several foods, micro- and macronutrients already separately proposed as potential protective factors against dementia and predementia syndromes. At present, epidemiological evidence suggests a possible association between fish consumption, monounsaturated fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) (particularly, n-3 PUFA), and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Light to moderate alcohol use may be associated with a reduced risk of incident dementia and AD, while for vascular dementia, cognitive decline, and predementia syndromes, the current evidence is only suggestive of a protective effect. Finally, the limited epidemiological evidence available on fruit and vegetable consumption and cognition generally support a protective role of these macronutrients against cognitive decline, dementia, and AD. We reviewed evidence on the possible mechanisms underlying the suggested protective role of MeDi against age-related changes in cognitive function, predementia syndromes, and dementia, examining the possible role of macronutrients and food nutrients of the MeDi and their nutraceutical properties in modulating the risk of cognitive decline. Although vascular variables are likely to be in the causal pathway between MeDi and dementia syndromes and should be considered as possible mediators, other nonvascular biological mechanisms (i.e., metabolic, oxidative, and inflammatory) may be invoked to explain the complex epidemiological association between MeDi and cognitive decline.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition Disorders / diet therapy*
  • Cognition Disorders / metabolism
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Dementia / diet therapy
  • Dementia / metabolism
  • Dementia / prevention & control
  • Diet, Mediterranean*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Humans