Components of a Mediterranean diet and their impact on cognitive functions in aging

Front Aging Neurosci. 2015 Jul 8:7:132. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2015.00132. eCollection 2015.


Background: Adhering to the Mediterranean diet (MeDi) is known to be beneficial with regard to many age-associated diseases including cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. Recent studies also suggest an impact on cognition and brain structure, and increasing effort is made to track effects down to single nutrients.

Aims: We aimed to review whether two MeDi components, i.e., long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (LC-n3-FA) derived from sea-fish, and plant polyphenols including resveratrol (RSV), exert positive effects on brain health in aging.

Content: We summarized health benefits associated with the MeDi and evaluated available studies on the effect of (1) fish-consumption and LC-n3-FA supplementation as well as (2) diet-derived or supplementary polyphenols such as RSV, on cognitive performance and brain structure in animal models and human studies. Also, we discussed possible underlying mechanisms.

Conclusion: A majority of available studies suggest that consumption of LC-n3-FA with fish or fishoil-supplements exerts positive effects on brain health and cognition in older humans. However, more large-scale randomized controlled trials are needed to draw definite recommendations. Considering polyphenols and RSV, only few controlled studies are available to date, yet the evidence based on animal research and first interventional human trials is promising and warrants further investigation. In addition, the concept of food synergy within the MeDi encourages future trials that evaluate the impact of comprehensive lifestyle patterns to help maintaining cognitive functions into old age.

Keywords: brain structure; cognition; memory; omega-3 fatty acids; plasticity; polyphenols; resveratrol.

Publication types

  • Review