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Government urged to promote Mediterranean diet to help tackle dementia

A group of senior GPs and dementia experts have written to the Government urging it to make a public health campaign promoting the Mediterranean diet the focus of its efforts to tackle dementia.

Former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada, National Obesity Forum chair Professor David Haslam, cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, academics researching dementia and Dr Simon Poole, a senior GPC member writing in a personal capacity, are among those to write an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron and health secretary Jeremy Hunt ahead of the G8 Dementia Summit in London this Wednesday.

In the letter, the group claims that politicians are too focused on potentially ‘dubious’ drug treatments and have failed to get across public health messages that could help address the increasing prevalence of dementia. They argue that the Government should invest in a programme to educate both schoolchildren and the wider adult population on the benefits of a Mediterranean diet to reduce the risk of people developing dementia.

Studies have shown that adhering to a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, unrefined cereals, fish and olive oil can reduce the risk of developing dementia as well as other conditions like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, the authors argued.

The letter comes amid widespread criticism from many GPs of the Government’s drive to focus on early diagnosis of dementia, which accelerated this year with the implementation of the dementia case-finding DES.

The letter says: ‘Whilst we support efforts to promote research and development in medical treatments of the disease, we believe that hitherto there has been insufficient emphasis on the role of diet and lifestyle – factors which have been shown to be associated with a dramatically reduced risk of developing dementia. In particular, a Mediterranean-style diet is pre-eminent in preventing and slowing the progression of dementia.’

‘Adopting a policy that incorporates a Mediterranean-style diet also helps address the current widespread resistance from the medical profession to the political drive to screen for pre-dementia, a situation that has arisen because (a) studies do not support the use of cognitive enhancers for mild cognitive impairment and (b) of concerns regarding patients’ insurance status, the social stigma of an early diagnosis etc.’

‘Prescribing a Mediterranean-style diet avoids many of these issues. And it is ideally placed to be recommended as part of the NHS Health Checks programme as it can also help manage multiple co-morbidities – not only common amongst patients with pre-dementia, but also an area of more broad concern.’

Dr Poole, a GP in Cambridge who has publicly campaigned on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and also imports extra virgin olive oil to the UK, said: ‘We are calling upon policy makers 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.’

Click here to read the full letter