A study involving 116 healthy older adults (65-75) has found that higher levels of several key nutrients in the blood were associated with more efficient brain connectivity and better cognitive performance. In fact, the findings suggest that the level of nutrients governs the strength of the association between functional brain network efficiency and cognitive performance.
The study looked at 32 key nutrients in the Mediterranean diet. The effective nutrients, which appeared to work synergistically, included omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, carotenoids, lycopene, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
A pattern of omega-3s, omega-6s and carotene was linked to better functional brain network efficiency.
Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in fish, walnuts and Brussels sprouts; omega-6 fatty acids are found in flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts and pistachios; lycopene is the vivid red pigment in tomatoes, watermelon and a few other fruits and vegetables; alpha- and beta-carotenoids give sweet potatoes and carrots their characteristic orange color.
 Zwilling, C. E., Talukdar T., Zamroziewicz M. K., & Barbey A. K.
(2019). Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and fMRI measures of network efficiency in the aging brain.
NeuroImage. 188, 239 - 251.
A study following nearly 28,000 older men for 20 years has found that regular consumption of leafy greens, dark orange and red vegetables and berry fruits, and orange juice, was associated with a lower risk of memory loss.
The study looked at 27,842 male health professionals, who were an average age of 51 in 1986, when the study began. Participants filled out questionnaires about how many servings of fruits, vegetables and other foods they had each day, at the beginning of the study and then every four years.
Interestingly, those who ate larger amounts of fruits and vegetables 20 years earlier were less likely to develop cognitive problems, whether or not they kept eating larger amounts of fruits and vegetables about six years before the memory test.
Cognition was not, however, assessed objectively, nor was it tested at baseline. In 2008 and 2012, participants were given a short cognitive test to assess their subjective judgments of their memory and cognition. The brief test included such questions as:
Just over half the participants (55%) had good thinking and memory skills, 38% had moderate skills, and 7% had poor thinking and memory skills.
Changzheng Yuan et al. 2019. Long-term intake of vegetables and fruits and subjective cognitive function in US men. Neurology, 92 (1) e63-e75.
A pilot study involving 106 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project who had experienced a stroke followed participants for an average of 5.9 years, testing their cognitive function and monitoring their eating habits using food journals. It was found that those whose diets scored highest on the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet score had substantially slower rates of cognitive decline than those who scored lowest. The estimated effect of the diet remained strong even after taking into account participants' level of education and participation in cognitive and physical activities. Those who instead scored high on the Mediterranean or DASH diets did not show the same slower decline.
Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets have been shown to be protective against coronary artery disease and stroke, but this finding suggests the MIND diet is better for overall brain health.
The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. It has 15 components: 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and five unhealthy groups (red meat, butter, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food).
To adhere to the MIND diet, you need to
The researchers stress that this is a preliminary study, observational only. They are currently seeking participants for a wider, intervention study.
Laurel J. Cherian & Martha Clare Morris: Presentation at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2018 in Los Angeles, January 25.
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