Key nutrients can help slow brain aging

Share on Pinterest
A recent study shows that certain nutrients from the Mediterranean diet, such as vitamin E and certain fatty acids, can slow brain aging. Vera Lair/Stocksy
  • Previous research has supported the many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, including its effects on brain health.
  • A recent study found that certain nutrients such as vitamin E and certain fatty acids can slow brain aging.
  • Researchers note that these specific nutrients are important components of the Mediterranean diet.

Researchers are increasingly interested in exploring ways to support healthy brain aging and prevent cognitive decline. One area of ​​interest is how diet can influence cognitive function.

A recent study published in Nature aging looked at nutritional profiles of older adults and how this relates to brain health.

Researchers used cognitive tests and brain imaging techniques and examined blood-based biomarkers to determine nutritional profiles. They identified a nutritional profile associated with slower brain aging. This nutritional profile contained higher levels of specific fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins.

The nutrients examined reflect the components of the Mediterranean diet, highlighting another benefit of following this diet.

Study author Aron K. Barbey, PhD, director of the Center for Brain, Biology, and Behavior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign said Medical news today the research adds to a growing body of evidence supporting the brain health benefits of the Mediterranean diet:

“Our research builds on previous work in several ways. First, it is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies using blood-based biomarkers to investigate the link between diet and brain health. Second, it goes beyond traditional cognitive testing by using multimodal neuroimaging measures. This provides a more complete picture of brain health, and includes measurements of brain structure, function and metabolism. Finally, the research goes beyond the focus on individual nutrients and identifies a specific nutritional profile associated with slower brain aging.”

This study was a cross-sectional survey of one hundred adults between the ages of 65 and 75. All participants were healthy and showed no signs of cognitive impairment. Participants underwent various tests, including MRI scans, mental tests and blood tests.

During the study, researchers examined 139 brain health variables, including markers of brain metabolism, function and structure.

Researchers identified two brain health phenotypes: delayed brain aging and accelerated brain aging. Those in the delayed aging group had a younger brain age than those in the accelerated aging group.

Participants also underwent various tests to look at things like intelligence, executive function and memory. The results indicated better cognitive function for participants in the delayed brain aging group.

Next, researchers looked at nutritional profiles via blood samples for participants in the delayed brain aging group.

This group had higher levels of 13 nutrients than those in the accelerated phenotype.

These nutrients include various fatty acids, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin E and choline. Two of the fatty acids mentioned were omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

This nutritional profile appears to have a clear impact on brain aging, independent of specific demographic measurements, body sizes and proportions, and physical fitness levels.

Researchers could also take into account covariates such as gender, income, body mass index (BMI), and education level. The results indicate a particular nutritional profile that may help slow brain aging.

The study authors suggest that the Mediterranean diet may be one of the most useful ways to ensure the consumption of these nutrients. The Mediterranean diet contains plenty of fruits and vegetables and low to moderate amounts of components such as fish, dairy, eggs and poultry.

Non-study author Sarah Wagner, a dietitian at Memorial Hermann Health System, noted the following MNT:

“The Mediterranean diet is a big name when it comes to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death. Of course, most people not only want to live longer physically, but they also want to maintain cognitive function as they age. The nutrients highlighted in this study are commonly found in a Mediterranean diet, suggesting that a Mediterranean diet (or any other plant-based diet) is not only beneficial for our physical health, but also for our cognitive health.”

Despite its promising implications, this study has some limitations. First, it cannot establish causality. Second, it included only a small number of participants, all of whom were white, indicating that future research could include a more comprehensive and diverse data set.

Additionally, the study only included adults between 65 and 75 years old, so future studies could also include data from older age groups. The results also do not detract from the importance of other nutrients for brain function.

Researchers further recognize that certain nutrients are not as well understood, so more research is needed to explore some of the underlying mechanisms.

Future research could also investigate how certain nutrients influence the trajectory of brain aging.

Barbey noted the following areas for further research:

“Despite the promise of this work, further research is needed to apply these findings to the public health context. Observational studies such as these should be followed by randomized controlled trials to confirm the effectiveness of the identified nutritional profile in promoting brain health. Furthermore, further research is needed to understand the specific mechanisms by which this nutritional profile may influence brain aging. Finally, longitudinal studies are needed to assess the long-term effects of nutritional interventions based on this profile.”

The results of this study point to the potential benefits of certain nutrients. Researchers noted several sources of these nutrients in the study.

For example, carotenoids are phytopigments that give certain foods vibrant colors. A few sources of carotenoids include:

  • Bell pepper
  • tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • carrots

Common sources of vitamin E include green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. Choline is commonly found in eggs, poultry, fish, cruciferous vegetables and certain beans.

Wagner offered similar dietary guidelines in her comments, making the following recommendations:

“If you’re a fan of oatmeal, add flax meal, chia seeds and English walnuts to increase the fatty acid ALA. Include an oily fish like salmon, herring or sardines in your dinner routine a few times a week for more EPA. Nuts and dairy products are good sources of the other fatty acids mentioned in the study. Yogurt or lightly salted nuts can be great snacks. You can also make a creamy salad dressing with yogurt and add some chopped nuts to the salad. Nuts, seeds and seed oils are good foods to absorb more vitamin E as well. Consider getting more tan for more carotenoids. Lively foods such as leafy greens, peppers, cantaloupe, tomatoes and carrots are good foods for carotenoids. Eggs and other animal proteins are good sources of choline, as are plant foods such as potatoes and soybeans.”

Anyone interested in incorporating more of these nutrients into their diet may benefit from working with a licensed professional, such as a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Leave a Comment