Mediterranean diet adherence and cognitive function in older, UK adults: The EPIC-Norfolk study

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  • Oliver Shannon
  • Blossom C M Stephan
  • Antoneta Granic
  • Marleen A H Lentjes
  • Shabina Hayat
  • Angela Mulligan
  • Carol Brayne
  • Kay-Tee Khaw
  • Rafe Bundy
  • Sarah Aldred
  • Michael Hornberger
  • Stella-Maria Paddick
  • Graciela Muniz-Tererra
  • Anne-Marie Minihane
  • John Mathers
  • Mario Servo

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Background In Mediterranean countries, adherence to a traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern (MedDiet) is associated with better cognitive function and reduced dementia risk. It is unclear if similar benefits exist in non-Mediterranean regions. Objective To examine associations between MedDiet adherence and cognitive function in an older, UK population. To investigate whether associations differed between individuals with high versus low cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. Design We conducted an analysis in 8009 older individuals with dietary data at Health Check 1 (1993-1997) and cognitive function data at Health Check 3 (2006-2011) of the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer, Norfolk (EPIC-Norfolk). Associations were explored between MedDiet adherence and global and domain specific cognitive test scores and risk of poor cognitive performance in the entire cohort, and when stratified according to CVD risk status. Results Higher MedDiet adherence defined by the Pyramid MedDiet score was associated with better global cognition (β±SE=-0.012±0.002; P<0.001), verbal episodic memory (β±SE=-0.009±0.002; P<0.001), and simple processing speed (β±SE=-0.002±0.001; P=0.013). Lower risk of poor verbal episodic memory (OR(95%CI)=0.784 (0.641,0.959); P=0.018), complex processing speed (OR(95%CI)=0.739 (0.601,0.907); P=0.004), and prospective memory (OR(95%CI)=0.841 (0.724,0.977); P=0.023) was also observed for the highest versus lowest Pyramid MedDiet tertiles. The effect of a one-point increase in Pyramid score on global cognitive function was equivalent to 1.7 fewer years of cognitive ageing. MedDiet adherence defined by the MEDAS score (mapped using both binary and continuous scoring) showed similar, albeit less consistent, associations. In stratified analyses, associations were evident in individuals at higher CVD risk only (P<0.05). Conclusions Higher adherence to the MedDiet is associated with better cognitive function and lower risk of poor cognition in older, UK adults. This evidence underpins the development of interventions to enhance MedDiet adherence, particularly in individuals at higher CVD risk, aiming to reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline in non-Mediterranean populations.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)938–948
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number4
Early online date17 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


    Research areas

  • Mediterranean diet, cognitive function, dementia risk, cardiovascular health, healthy ageing

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