New study reveals which diet is associated with slow and healthy aging of the brain

New study reveals which diet is associated with slow and healthy aging of the brain
New study reveals which diet is associated with slow and healthy aging of the brain

Researchers have long been studying the brain with the aim of contributing to a healthier aging. While much is known about the risk factors for accelerated brain aging, less has been discovered to identify ways to prevent the cognitive impairment.

There is evidence that nutrition is important, and a new study published in ‘Nature Publishing Group Aging‘, from the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US, also points out how specific nutrients can play a fundamental role in healthy brain aging .

The team of scientists, led by Aron Barbey, director of the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, with Jisheng Wu, a doctoral student at Nebraska, and Christopher Zwilling, a UIUC research scientist, conducted the multimodal study, combining state-of-the-art innovations from latest generation in neuroscience and nutritional science, and identified a specific nutrient profile in participants who had better cognitive performance.

The cross-sectional study enrolled 100 cognitively healthy participants, aged 65 to 75 years. These participants completed a questionnaire with demographic information, body measurements, and physical activity. Blood plasma was collected after a fasting period to analyze nutrient biomarkers.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on the consumption of foods of natural origin and healthy fats.


Participants also underwent cognitive evaluations and MRI scans. The efforts revealed two types of brain aging among participants: accelerated and slower than expected. Those with slower brain aging had a different nutritional profile.

The blood biomarkers of beneficial nutrients were a combination of fatty acids (vaccenic, gondoic, alpha linolenic, elcosapentaenoic, eicosadienoic and lignoceric acids); antioxidants and carotenoids, including cis-lutein, trans-lutein and zeaxanthin; two forms of vitamin E and choline. This profile correlates with the nutrients found in the Mediterranean dietwhich research has previously associated with healthy brain aging.

“We investigate specific nutrient biomarkers, such as fatty acid profiles, which are known in nutritional science to offer potential health benefits. This aligns with the extensive body of research in the field demonstrating the positive health effects of the Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes foods rich in these beneficial nutrients,” says Barbey, Mildred Francis Thompson Professor of Psychology.

“The present study identifies particular patterns of nutrient biomarkers that are promising and have favorable associations with measures of cognitive performance and brain health“, Add.

Barbey notes that previous research on nutrition and brain aging has relied primarily on food frequency questionnaires, which rely on participants’ own memories. This study is one of the first and largest to combine brain imaging, blood biomarkers, and validated cognitive assessments.

“The unique aspect of our study lies in its comprehensive approach, which integrates data on nutrition, cognitive function and brain imaging. This allows us to build a more robust understanding of the relationship between these factors. We go beyond simply measuring cognitive performance with traditional neuropsychological tests,” says the researcher.

Instead, they simultaneously examined brain structure, function, and metabolism, demonstrating a direct link between these brain properties and cognitive abilities. Besides, “We demonstrate that these brain properties are directly related to diet and nutrition.n, as revealed by observed patterns in nutrient biomarkers.”

Researchers will continue to explore this nutrient profile as it relates to healthy brain aging. Barbey says it’s possible, in the future, that the findings will help develop therapies and interventions to promote brain health.

“An important next step is to conduct randomized controlled trials. In these trials, we will isolate specific nutrients with favorable associations with cognitive function and brain health, and administer them in the form of nutraceuticals. This will allow us to definitively evaluate whether the increase in levels of these specific nutrient profiles reliably leads to improvements in performance on cognitive tests and in measures of brain structure, function and metabolism,” he concludes.


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