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Published on: December 9, 2013
by Fiona MaCrae for Daily Mail:
The battle against dementia should focus on the benefits of a Mediterranean diet rather than ‘dubious’ drugs, leading doctors have told the Government.
In an open letter to the Health Secretary, they said persuading people to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil was ‘possibly the best strategy currently available’ for preventing Alzheimer’s and other memory-robbing diseases.
The medics insisted that numerous high-quality studies back their call, but claimed that ‘compelling’ evidence has largely been ignored.
The letter’s signatories include Dr Clare Gerada, the former chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, and Dr David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum.
It reads: ‘We hope this crisis can be seen as an opportunity towards a real policy change, namely towards a Mediterranean diet, rather than towards the dubious benefits of most drugs.’
It goes on to say the evidence ‘strongly suggests’ that improvements to lifestyle will have a ‘far greater effect’ on the rising tide of dementia than drugs.
The call comes as dementia experts from the G8 countries prepare to travel to London for a summit hosted by the Prime Minister.
Dr Simon Poole, the GP who organised the letter, said: ‘It is all about looking at what pharmaceutical companies can do, which is actually not very much.
‘They talk up their medicine and then it is very often a damp squib. We want some sort of focus on prevention. Educating all generations, including our children, in the importance of a good diet in maintaining health in old age is a project which will take years, but is absolutely essential.
‘We are calling upon policymakers to not only support the care and treatment of those who are already suffering from dementia, but to make significant investments in work which will see benefits beyond the period of one or two parliaments.’
He added: ‘People are put off because they perceive the Mediterranean diet as being expensive.
‘But although fresh fish and olive oil cost more, as a whole, it need not be more expensive than the standard diet most of us have.’
In a recent review, nine out of 12 studies analysed at Exeter University credited following a Mediterranean diet with staying sharper for longer and a having lower risk of Alzheimer’s.
A 20-year study by the Medical Research Council also found that eating healthily kept the mind sharp in old age.
Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist, said: ‘The evidence base for the Mediterranean diet in preventing all of the chronic diseases plaguing the western world is overwhelming. This includes cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
‘Policymakers and the public need to know that such a diet is far more potent than the often dubious benefit of many medications and without side-effects.’
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone to cut the risk of dementia as well as conditions like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
‘The G8 summit will provide a unique opportunity to make real progress, and redouble international efforts to find effective treatments and cures for dementia.’
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