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Could a Mediterranean diet and exercise reduce dementia risk?

Published on: 26 June 2019

Researchers at Newcastle University are launching a new study to see whether eating a Mediterranean-style diet and being more physically active could improve brain function and reduce dementia risk.

A Mediterranean-style diet is rich in plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes, and wholegrain cereals. 

This diet also includes a moderate intake of fish, and limited intake of dairy foods, red meat and confectionary. Red wine is the alcoholic beverage of choice, which is typically consumed with meals, and olive oil is used liberally in cooking, and drizzled on bread, salads, and pasta.

First of its kind

The trial, which is the first study of its kind in the UK, will attempt to change the diet and exercise habits of people over a 24-week period.

The Newcastle University researchers are looking for more than 60 volunteers from the region to take part, with participants also recruited in Norwich and Birmingham.

Professor John Mathers, who is the local lead for the Newcastle arm of the study, said: “There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK with this number set to more than double by 2050.

“Although there are some drugs to help treat the symptoms of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia, there are no treatments that can stop or slow the spread of these diseases through the brain.

“That’s why it’s so important that we look at preventative measures such as changes to diet or other lifestyle factors, in order to retain good brain function.

“There is emerging evidence from scientific studies to suggest that consuming a Mediterranean diet and regularly exercising can help improve cognition and lower the risk of dementia.

“However, more evidence is needed from human studies, particularly those conducted in UK adults. Volunteers must be between 55 and 74 years old, and have no diagnosis of dementia but may be noticing some decline in their memory.”

Collaborative project

The Mediterranean Diet, Exercise and Dementia Risk Reduction Programme (MedEx-UK) is a collaborative project between Newcastle University, and the Universities of East Anglia, Birmingham, Aberdeen and Cambridge. It is funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Dr Oliver Shannon, who will be running the data collection for the study, a Research Associate at Newcastle University, said: “We’re looking to recruit people who are prepared to try to make changes to their diet and physical activity levels.

“The study will involve cognitive tests, an MRI brain scan, providing a small number of blood samples, keeping a food record, wearing an activity monitor and attending group sessions.

“We are asking people who are interested in taking part to complete our online screening questionnaire.”

Anyone interested in taking part in the study can check their eligibility by completing the following questionnaire:

For more information, please contact the team on 0191 208 1140 or email


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