The link between diet and neurological health has been thoroughly studied in recent years. It is well understood that eating the right foods can protect against degenerative conditions, but to what extent?
A recent study focused on this connection, discovering that a diet rich in fruits, nuts, fish, and vegetables can lessen the effects of brain shrinkage. In addition, previous studies have shown that greater brain volume contributes to better cognitive abilities. This supports the theory that diet contributes to healthy, normal aging.
Study Finds Link Between a Healthy Diet and Brain Volume
A recent study in the Netherlands studied 4,213 people with an average age of 66. At the time of this study, no participants had been diagnosed with dementia. After completing a 400-item questionnaire, the researchers analyzed the participants’ intake of various food groups.
These groups included fruit, whole grain products, vegetables, nuts, dairy, red and processed meat, tea, unsaturated fats and oils, alcohol, sugary beverage, fish, and salt. Based on their intake, each participant was then given a score between zero and 14. On average, participants were given a score of seven.
Following this initial analysis, all participants had an MRI scan to better determine associated brain volume. The presence of small brain bleeds and white matter lesions were also examined. The average total brain volume was found to be 932 milliliters. Overall, it was found that those who consumed a more nutrient-rich diet had an average of two milliliters more brain volume in comparison to those who ate a poor diet.
To put this into perspective, a brain volume that is 3.6 milliliters smaller would equate to approximately one year of aging. There did not appear to be an associated link between diet and small brain bleeds or the development of white matter lesions. The researchers also adjusted for other variables, such as education, age, sex, physical activity, and smoking.
Of course, one key limitation is that diet was self-reported. Also, there may be inconsistencies as participants had to recall what they had eaten over the course of one month. Since all participants were Dutch, other populations, including the United States may yield different results.
Although more research needs to be conducted, one thing is certain. The foods we eat have a complex and profound effect on brain tissue and in turn, function. This study may not prove that diet directly results in larger brain volume, but there is a clear association. These results were published in Neurology.
Previous Research on Diet and the Aging Brain
The above study is not the first of its kind and it will not be the last. In the past, researchers have taken a particular interest in the connection between Alzheimer’s and a Mediterranean diet. In fact, one recent study found that this type of diet, rich in plants, olive oil, and fish, helped delay Alzheimer’s disease.
Those less prone to this disease also consumed less processed food, sugar, and red meat. This analysis was conducted at Weill Cornell Medical College. A total of 70 healthy adults between the ages of 30 and 60 took part, half of whom had been consuming a Mediterranean diet.
The researchers measured key biomarkers for Alzheimer’s both at the beginning and at the end of the study. In total, the study took place over a three year period. What they found was that those in the low adherence group displayed greater biological risks for Alzheimer’s in comparison to those with a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet.
These specific risk factors included a high concentration of beta-amyloid, and a worsened ability to metabolize glucose in brain cells. Based on these results, it was estimated that consuming a Mediterranean diet is associated with 1.5 to 3.5 years of protection.
Concerned About Alzheimer’s Today?
If you are concerned about your current level of cognition, BrainTest® can help you better assess and detect possible early warning signs. Providing you with baseline results, you can track any potential impairments across time.
Remember, it is never too late to address your lifestyle, focusing on healthier, more balanced choices. To support this transition and to encourage positive change, please refer to the following articles: