How Does Diet Affect Brain Aging?

Brain FoodDoes your diet affect how your brain functions? Are there foods you can eat that will delay brain aging? If so, what are they?

There’s a fascinating new study dealing with these sorts of questions that was done at Oregon Health & Science University and published in the December 28, 2011, online edition of the journal Neurology.

The study involved 104 volunteers who were elderly (average age 87) but relatively healthy. Researchers analyzed their blood for a variety of vitamins and nutrients, including vitamins B, C, D and E, saturated fat, carotenoids, omega-3 fatty acids, cholesterol and trans fats.

Then they compared those levels to the participants’ performance on cognitive tests as well as to MRI scans showing the size of their brains.

These are some of the highlights of the study:

  • Participants who had higher blood levels of vitamins B, C, D and E and omega-3 fatty acids scored higher on the mental-function tests, including memory tests, than those with lower levels of these nutrients.

    Vitamins B, C and E are high in fruits and vegetables. Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids are found primarily in the flesh of fatty fish, such as salmon.

  • These participants also tended to have larger brain size.
  • On the other hand, people who had higher levels of trans fats in their blood scored lower on these tests. They took more time overall to complete the tests and had more trouble with memory and language skills.
  • Trans fats come largely from packaged, fried, frozen and fast foods, along with baked goods and margarine spreads.

  • These people also had more brain shrinkage. (Some amount of brain atrophy, or shrinkage, occurs with aging. However, more significant shrinkage is associated with mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease.)

This study is observational. That means that it observed an association between these nutrients and brain size and function, but it did not establish a cause and effect relationship. Therefore, more research is needed.

In the meantime, however, the advice that we get so often is also suggested by this study: Eat more fruits and vegetables and fish, and avoid trans fats.
Fruits and Vegetables

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