How does nutrition affect the brain?
A healthy diet has a huge impact on the human body. But such a diet has a positive effect not only on the body but also on the brain. Researchers have now found that a healthier diet is associated with a larger volume of brain tissue.
In their current study, scientists at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam found that healthier nutrition can be associated with larger brain tissue volume. The doctors published the results of their study in the English journal "Neurology".
Diet can affect neurodegeneration
During the long-running Dutch cohort study, it was observed that a healthier diet is associated with a larger brain tissue volume. This suggests that diet may affect the so-called neurodegeneration of the brain structure. A better overall quality of nutrition is associated with a larger total brain volume, more gray matter, more white matter and a larger hippocampal volume, explains study author Dr. Meike Vernooij from the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam.
What foods did the changes bring about?
The positive effect was driven by several food groups such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, dairy products and fish. These foods contributed differentially to the effects on brain changes, the scientists explain.
Nutritional quality can maintain thinking ability
People with a larger brain volume generally have better cognitive skills. Therefore, initiatives that help improve nutritional quality could be a good strategy to maintain thinking skills in older adults, says Dr. Vernooij. More research is needed to confirm the results and to examine the ways in which nutrition can affect the brain. There is increasing evidence that a healthy diet supports cellular aging of the brain, which has a positive effect on cognition, the experts explain.
Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of dementia
A large body of literature has shown that cognitively healthy older people and middle-aged people who adopt a healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia in later life. While most of these studies looked at nutrition and cognitive outcomes, only a few analyzed the relationship between food intake and brain structure.
4,213 subjects participated in the study
For the current study, the researchers evaluated a total of 4,213 participants from the Netherlands who had neither dementia nor cortical infarctions. The participants had an average age of 65.7 years and 56.8 percent were female. The subjects had to answer questionnaires about the frequency of the food consumed and the portion sizes for 389 different foods. In addition, so-called MRI brain scans were carried out repeatedly between 2005 and 2915.
How did the diet work?
After adapting the data to age, gender, education, energy intake, smoking, physical activity and body mass index, it was found that a higher quality of the diet (e.g. a Mediterranean diet) actually leads to more brain volume, gray matter volume, Volume of white matter led. Adapting to other cardiovascular risk factors did not change the trend, the diet was not associated with white brain lesions or small cerebral hemorrhages, the scientists say.
Which diet is recommended?
A healthy diet in the Netherlands is similar to a Mediterranean diet in the Mediterranean. Of course, it is adapted to Dutch eating habits. This means that it contains a higher percentage of fat, the researchers explain. The scientific literature so far indicates that a balanced diet that is rich in healthy carbohydrates and fiber and has a low to moderate fat content supports the aging of the brain. There is no evidence to the contrary, the doctors add.
Which mechanisms are responsible for the change?
Several mechanisms could be responsible for the association between nutrition and brain health. According to the study authors, the diet could have a direct impact on neuronal health or affect vascular risk or cerebrovascular diseases. In addition, an effect of so-called neuro-development can be observed, in which differences in the quality of nutrition throughout life have different effects on brain structure and brain health.
Results showed only one association
The current study shows only an association, not cause and effect, emphasizes Dr. The subjects' nutritional data were all provided by themselves. In addition, the participants were all Dutch people, which may mean that studies in other countries could lead to different results. (as)