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Science Pinpoints Nutrients Crucial to Brain Health
  • Posted May 23, 2024

Science Pinpoints Nutrients Crucial to Brain Health

Specific nutrients could play a pivotal role in the healthy aging of your brain, a new study finds.

What's more, those nutrients correlate closely with those found in the Mediterranean diet, an eating pattern already associated with healthy brain aging, researchers report.

The identified nutrients “align 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,” said senior researcher Aron Barbey, director of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln's Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior.

For the study, researchers took blood samples and performed brain function tests and MRI scans on 100 cognitively healthy people ages 65 to 75.

Analysis revealed two different types of brain aging among the participants, accelerated and slower than expected.

Those with slower brain aging had a distinct nutrient profile in their blood samples, results show.

The beneficial nutrient blood biomarkers included 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.

  • Choline, an essential nutrient.

This profile correlates closely with that of the Mediterranean diet, researchers noted.

These nutrient patterns “are promising and have favorable associations with measures of cognitive performance and brain health,” Barbey said in a university news release.

Previous research on nutrition and brain aging has relied on food questionnaires, which depend on participants remembering what they've eaten.

This is one of the first and largest studies to check blood markers for nutrient levels, and combine that data with brain imaging and cognitive testing, researchers said.

“This allows us to build a more robust understanding of the relationship between these factors,” Barbey said.

“We move beyond simply measuring cognitive performance with traditional neuropsychological tests,” Barbey noted. “Instead, we simultaneously examine brain structure, function and metabolism, demonstrating a direct link between these brain properties and cognitive abilities. Furthermore, we show that these brain properties are directly linked to diet and nutrition, as revealed by the patterns observed in nutrient biomarkers.”

The findings were published May 21 in the journal Nature Aging.

Researchers plan to continue studying this nutrient profile and its role in healthy brain aging. They hope the findings will lay the foundation for therapies to promote brain health.

“An important next step involves conducting randomized, controlled trials,” Barbey said. “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,” which are foods or supplements designed to boost health.

“This will allow us to definitively assess whether increasing the levels of these specific nutrient profiles reliably leads to improvements in cognitive test performance and measures of brain structure, function and metabolism,” Barbey added.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about the Mediterranean diet.

SOURCE: University of Nebraska–Lincoln, news release, May 21, 2024

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