Study links key nutrients with slower brain aging

May 28, 2024 in Brain Health, Nutrition Topics in the News

Study links key nutrients with slower brain aging

Scientists have long been studying the brain with a goal of aiding healthier aging. While much is known about risk factors for accelerated brain aging, less has been uncovered to identify ways to prevent cognitive decline.

There is evidence that nutrition matters, and a novel study from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign further signals how specific nutrients may play a pivotal role in the healthy aging of the brain.

The team of scientists performed the multimodal study — combining state-of-the-art innovations in neuroscience and nutritional science — and identified a specific nutrient profile in participants who performed better cognitively.

About the study

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

Participants also underwent cognitive assessments and MRI scans. The efforts revealed two types of brain aging among the participants — accelerated and slower-than-expected.

Those with slower brain aging had a distinct nutrient profile.

Nutrients tied to slower brain aging

Beneficial nutrient blood biomarkers were a combination of fatty acids (vaccenic, gondoic, alpha linolenic, elcosapentaenoic, eicosadienoic and lignoceric acids); antioxidants and carotenoids including lutein and zeaxanthin; two forms of vitamin E and choline.

This profile is correlated with nutrients found in the Mediterranean diet, which research has previously associated with healthy brain aging.

According to the researchers, “the findings 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.” “The present study identifies particular nutrient biomarker patterns that are promising and have favorable associations with measures of cognitive performance and brain health.”

Previous research on nutrition and brain aging has mostly relied on food frequency questionnaires, which are dependent on participants’ own memory recall. This study is one of the first and the largest to combine brain imaging, blood biomarkers and validated cognitive assessments.

The unique aspect of this study lies in its comprehensive approach, integrating data on nutrition, cognitive function and brain imaging, providing a more robust understanding of the relationship between these factors.

The researchers will continue to explore this nutrient profile as it relates healthy brain aging.

Where to find these nutrients

You’ll find fatty acids in cold water fatty fish (salmon, trout, Arctic char, sardines), plant oils, nuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, certain whole grains and dairy products.

Excellent sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include spinach, kale and Swiss chard. Egg yolks and corn also contain these antioxidants.

You’ll get plenty of vitamin E from sunflower oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil, almonds, almond butter, hazelnuts and cooked spinach and Swiss chard.

The richest food sources of choline are animal foods including eggs yolks,  beef, chicken, salmon and cod.

Good plant-based sources of choline are soybeans, kidney beans, chickpeas, red potatoes, quinoa, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, shiitake mushrooms, cauliflower, peanuts and green peas.

Next steps

An important next step involves conducting randomized controlled trials to isolate specific nutrients with favorable associations with cognitive function and brain health and then administer them in the form of nutraceuticals. Doing so will allow researchers 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.

“There’s immense scientific and medical interest in understanding the profound impact of nutrition on brain health,” Aron Barbey, lead researcher said. “Recognizing this, the National Institutes of Health recently launched a ten-year strategic plan to significantly accelerate nutrition research. Our work directly aligns with this critical initiative, aiming to contribute valuable insights into how dietary patterns influence brain health and cognitive function.”

Source: Nature Aging, May 21, 2024

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.