Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Eat Right to Prevent Your Brain from Shrinking

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Diet, nutrient levels linked to cognitive ability, brain shrinkage

New research has found that people with higher levels of several vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had better performance on mental acuity tests and less of the brain shrinkage typical of Alzheimer’s disease – while “junk food” diets produced just the opposite result.

The study involved 104 people with an average age of 87 and very few risk factors for memory and thinking problems. Blood tests were used to determine the levels of various nutrients present in the blood of each participant. All of the participants also took tests of their memory and thinking skills. A total of 42 of the participants had MRI scans to measure their brain volume.

Among the findings and observations:

  • The most favorable cognitive outcomes and brain size measurements were associated with two dietary patterns – high levels of marine fatty acids, and high levels of vitamins B, C, D and E.
  • Consistently worse cognitive performance was associated with a higher intake of the type of trans-fats found in baked and fried foods, margarine, fast food and other less-healthy dietary choices.
  • The range of demographic and lifestyle habits examined included age, gender, education, smoking, drinking, blood pressure, body mass index and many others.
  • The use of blood analysis helped to eliminate issues such as people’s flawed recollection of what they ate, and personal variability in nutrients absorbed.
  • Much of the variation in mental performance depended on factors such as age or education, but nutrient status accounted for 17 percent of thinking and memory scores and 37 percent of the variation in brain size.
  • Cognitive changes related to different diets may be due both to impacts on brain size and cardiovascular function.

“These findings are based on average people eating average American diets,” said Maret Traber, a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute and co-author on the study.

“If anyone right now is considering a New Year’s resolution to improve their diet, this would certainly give them another reason to eat more fruits and vegetables.”

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The above story is reprinted from the December 28, 2011 press release provided by the American Academy of Neurology. The Academy is an association of 24,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care.

The article has been published in the December 28, 2011, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology: G.L. Bowman, L.C. Silbert, D. Howieson, H.H. Dodge, M.G. Traber, B. Frei, J.A. Kaye, J. Shannon, and J.F. Quinn Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging. Neurology, doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182436598

See also our September 2011 report "Fruits and Vegetables Will Save Your Mind"

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