Advancing knowledge of the connection between nutrition and brain health, a team of researchers has published a study intended to identify which nutrients might be proven to play a role in slowing the onset of dementia or improve memory once it has begun to decline. Armed with the appropriate evidence of its effectiveness, it is hoped that this research could lead to accepted recommendations for dietary and nutritional supplement protocols to slow the onset and development of cognitive decline.
The Lincoln Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior is led by researcher Aron Barbey at the University of Illinois. Their recently published research study attempted to uncover whether specific nutrients could be identified which could play a role in maintaining healthy aging of the brain.
Their investigation studied 100 cognitively healthy subjects between 65 and 75 years of age. The study entitled Investigating nutrient biomarkers of healthy brain aging: a multimodal brain imaging studywas published in the scientific journal Aging10.1038/s41514-024-00150-8
The researchers measured the levels of nutrient biomarkers in these individuals to see if they could identify which nutritional factors might help to prevent cognitive decline. They measured fatty acids, carotenoids, anti-oxidants, choline and Vitamin E . These are some of the same nutritional elements that have been felt contribute to the benefits seen with what is known as the Mediterranean diet.
Studies have shown that people who follow this type of diet have less degenerative changes seen in brain MRIs and slower measurements of cognitive decline than people who follow the more Standard American diet, known as the SAD diet.

The Mediterranean diet is the  term used to describe the dietary pattern of people living in the countries along the Mediterranean Sea- including Greece, Italy, Spain and southern France. People in this area of the world have a diet that is more plant-based than the average American diet. Also, the animal proteins that are consumed are much more from fish and much less red meat. The specific food choices recommended are to eat a greater amount of green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes in comparison to the Standard American diet (SAD). The SAD diet is characterized by too many sugars and processed foods which contribute to the development of chronic disease.

To participate in the study the 100 enrolled subjects completed a detailed questionnaire with regard to their demographic information, physical activity levels and body measurements. Blood tests were then performed to analyze the variety of nutrient biomarkers that were being evaluated. The study subjects also had Brain MRI scans performed as well as participating in cognitive testing.

Analysis of the data revealed two types of brain aging, classified as accelerated and slower-than-expected. Those with slower brain aging had a distinct nutrient profile. Mildred Barbey said. “The present study identifies particular nutrient biomarker patterns that are promising and have favorable associations with measures of cognitive performance and brain health.” The beneficial nutrient blood biomarkers were a combination of fatty acids, carotenoids,  choline and vitamin E. “We investigated specific nutrient biomarkers, such as fatty acid profiles, known in nutritional science to potentially offer health benefits. This aligns 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.”

Barbey said it’s possible, in the future, that the findings will aid in developing therapies and interventions to promote brain health. “An important next step involves conducting randomized controlled trials. In these trials, we will isolate specific nutrients with favorable associations with cognitive function and brain health, and administer them in the form of nutraceuticals. This will allow us 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.”

Collaborating with the Journal of Nutrition, the researchers say they will be contributing to an upcoming new publication which will be called  “Nutrition and the Brain — Exploring Pathways to Optimal Brain Health Through Nutrition”,  scheduled to be published next year.

“There’s immense scientific and medical interest in understanding the profound impact of nutrition on brain health,” Barbey 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.”


Another well known dietary plan is known as the MIND diet. The Southern Illinois (SIU) School of Medicine promotes the MIND diet which it proposes will slow cognitive decline,fish%2C%20poultry%20and%20olive%20oil.

The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both of these programs emphasize natural plant-based foods and limit the intake of animal foods and saturated fats. Berries and green leafy vegetables are a priority.

Basic instructions for the MIND diet are as follows:

Eat a salad and one other vegetable and 3 servings of whole grains per day.

Eat berries at least twice per week

Eat fatty fish and poultry, avoiding beef.

Nuts and seeds should be used for snacking.

Eat lentils and beans regularly.

Researchers at RUSH University say that their research showed that this diet when carefully applied lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s by more than 50 percent. They also showed  a very significant reduction in high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.  And they found that people who were not as strict, and followed the diet “moderately’ still lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s by 35 percent.

The study referenced above has been a part of a multi-year project called the Rush Memory and Aging Project. This study utilized volunteers living in retirement communities and Senior public housing  in the Chicago area. Their studies  began in 1997 and included  annual clinical neurological examinations from 2004-February 2013. Their study analyzed data obtained from  1306 participants through the end of the study period.

Dementia as a major public health problem awaits meaningful new treatments and the development of effective medications. Until the day arrives that these treatments become recognized and approved, dietary measures and lifestyle factors such as exercise remain the mainstay of dementia prevention.
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