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Could oily fish and red wine hold the key to reducing dementia risk?

A Mediterranean diet is packed full of fresh produce - could it play a part in reducing dementia risk? Researchers at the University of East Anglia are hoping to find out in a new study. Photo: Getty Images

A Mediterranean diet is packed full of fresh produce - could it play a part in reducing dementia risk? Researchers at the University of East Anglia are hoping to find out in a new study. Photo: Getty Images

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A Mediterranean diet - packed with fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish and wholegrains - has long been touted as one of the healthiest to follow.

Lead researcher Prof Anne Marie Minihane, from Norwich Medical School. Photo: UEALead researcher Prof Anne Marie Minihane, from Norwich Medical School. Photo: UEA

Now the University of East Anglia (UEA) is investigating another possible benefit of this sun-kissed diet: reduced dementia risk.

Researchers at the university are launching a new study - the first of its kind in the UK - to see whether following the diet and being more active could help improve brain function and decrease the risk of developing the degenerative disease.

A Mediterranean-style diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes, wholegrain cereals, fish and olive oil with limited intake of dairy foods, red meat and confectionary. Red wine is the typical alcoholic beverage and is consumed with meals.

Lead researcher Prof Anne-Marie Minihane from the Norwich Medical School said scientists have identified that following the diet and taking regular exercise could improve cognition and lower dementia risk, but that more evidence was needed from human studies.

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"There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK with this number set to soar to over two million by 2050," she said.

"While there are some drugs to help treat the symptoms of diseases like 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 brain vitality."

The UEA team is looking for more than 60 volunteers from the region to take part in the trial, funded by Alzheimer's Research UK, which will attempt to change the diet and exercise habits of people over a 24-week period. Volunteers must be aged between 55 and 74, and have no diagnosis of dementia but may be noticing some decline in their memory.

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 on the wrist and attending group sessions.

The Mediterranean Diet, Exercise and Dementia Risk Reduction Programme (MedEx-UK) is a collaborative project between UEA and the Universities of Newcastle, Birmingham, Aberdeen and Cambridge.

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