According to the research, the diet may help protect against brain blood-vessel damage, which in turn cuts the risk of stroke and memory loss.
The diet has long been shown to lower the risk of heart ailments such as stroke and heart disease, as well as cognitive disorders like Alzheimer's disease. It consists largely of vegetables, fruit, fish, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and moderate consumption of alcohol, with limited intake of red meat, sweets and refined grains such as white bread.
The study, which was published in the Archives of Neurology, was the first to look at how the diet affects the brain.
The researchers, from the University of Miami and Columbia University, looked at food surveys filled out by nearly 1,000 subjects in a larger, ongoing Northern Manhattan Study and categorized the groups based on how much their diets resembled a typical Mediterranean-style one.
They then used magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scans of the subjects' brains to look for damage to small blood vessels that causes so-called silent strokes, which do not cause immediate symptoms but build up over time to hurt cognitive performance.
The results generally showed that the people who scored highest for adherence to the Mediterranean diet had the lowest amount of blood vessel damage. Also, the people who ate more of the kind of fat found in olive oil showed less of the damage to their small blood vessels.
The study does not demonstrate that a Mediterranean-style diet causes less brain damage, so more study is needed. But it may help protect small blood vessels in the brain.
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