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Eating foods with these key nutrients will dramatically slow brain aging

In the quest to promote healthier aging and prevent cognitive decline, scientists have been diligently studying the brain for years.

While much is known about the risk factors that can accelerate brain aging, less has been uncovered about effective ways to maintain cognitive function as we grow older.

However, recent research has shed new light on the crucial role that specific nutrients play in the healthy aging of the brain.

Combining neuroscience and nutritional science

The study, published in Nature Aging, was led by Aron Barbey, director of the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

At his side was Jisheng Wu, a doctoral student at Nebraska, and Christopher Zwilling, research scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This brilliant team of scientists combined state-of-the-art innovations in neuroscience and nutritional science to conduct a multimodal study that identified a specific nutrient profile in participants who performed better cognitively.

Identifying two types of brain aging

The cross-sectional study enrolled 100 cognitively healthy participants, aged 65-75, who completed a questionnaire with demographic information, body measurements, and physical activity.

Blood plasma was collected following a fasting period to analyze the nutrient biomarkers, and participants also underwent cognitive assessments and MRI scans.

The efforts revealed two types of brain aging among the participants: accelerated and slower-than-expected. Interestingly, those with slower brain aging had a distinct nutrient profile.

Brain-boosting beneficial nutrients

The beneficial nutrient blood biomarkers identified in the study were a combination of

  • Fatty acids: Vaccenic, gondoic, alpha linolenic, elcosapentaenoic, eicosadienoic, and lignoceric acids
  • Antioxidants and carotenoids: Including cis-lutein, trans-lutein, and zeaxanthin
  • Two forms of vitamin E: Found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds to name a few
  • Choline: Found in egg yolks and fish, to name two examples

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

“We investigated specific nutrient biomarkers, such as fatty acid profiles, known in nutritional science to potentially offer health benefits,” Barbey explained.

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.

The present study identifies particular nutrient biomarker patterns that are promising and have favorable associations with measures of cognitive performance and brain health.

Linking diet, cognition, and brain function

One of the unique aspects of this study is its comprehensive approach, which integrates data on nutrition, cognitive function, and brain imaging.

“This allows us to build a more robust understanding of the relationship between these factors. We move beyond simply measuring cognitive performance with traditional neuropsychological tests,” Barbey noted.

“Instead, we simultaneously examine brain structure, function, and metabolism, demonstrating a direct link between these brain properties and cognitive abilities,” he continued.

According to their research, these brain properties are directly linked to diet and nutrition, as revealed by the patterns observed in nutrient biomarkers.

Next steps in brain aging research

The researchers plan to continue exploring this nutrient profile as it relates to healthy brain aging. Barbey noted that 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,” he said.

This approach will allow the scientists 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.

In addition to the ongoing research, Barbey is also co-editing an upcoming special collection for the Journal of Nutrition, titled “Nutrition and the Brain — Exploring Pathways to Optimal Brain Health Through Nutrition.”

“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,” Barbey concluded.

Aging gracefully with a healthy brain

In summary, this intriguing study led by Aron Barbey and his team at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has opened new doors in our understanding of the intricate relationship between nutrition and brain health.

By combining cutting-edge techniques in neuroscience and nutritional science, they have identified a specific nutrient profile that is associated with slower brain aging and better cognitive performance.

This profile, rich in fatty acids, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds, aligns with the well-known Mediterranean diet and offers hope for future interventions aimed at promoting healthier brain aging.

As researchers continue to explore this fascinating field through randomized controlled trials and special collections like the upcoming “Nutrition and the Brain” in the Journal of Nutrition, we move closer to unlocking the secrets of optimal brain health and developing targeted strategies to nourish our minds throughout our lives.

The full study was published in the journal Nature Aging.


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