Could Keeping Your Cognitive Abilities be as Simple as Eating the Right Foods?

photo by Carol Duff

Health Editor’s Note:  Eating healthy may be one of the easiest ways to maintain your cognitive abilities as you age. We have been led to believe that there is not much we can do to alleviate neurological decline as we age. 

Neurons, the basic cell of the nervous system, are found in the brain and spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system.  Neurons are specialized since sensory neurons react to a type of stimulus such as light, sound, or touch.  Motor neurons receive signals from the brain/spinal cord and  this is how we move muscles and how the glands function.

Neurons are generated by special types of stem cells during the time of brain development and childhood.  Generally the neurons of the adult brain do not have cell division which is how neurons would replicate themselves if they were a regular body cell. Since we do not get an infinite number of neurons it would be great if we can optimize their function….Carol     

Better Diet Tied to Bigger Brains

Dutch study shows association between food and brain structure

by Judy George, Contributing Writer, MedPage Today

Healthier diets were associated with larger brain tissue volume in a long-running Dutch cohort study, suggesting that nutrition might affect neurodegeneration through brain structure.

Better overall diet quality was related to larger total brain volume, gray matter, white matter, and hippocampal volume, according to Meike Vernooij, MD, PhD, of the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, and colleagues.

These associations were driven by several food groups — vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, dairy, and fish — which contributed differentially to the effect on brain changes, they reported in Neurology.

“People with greater brain volume have been shown in other studies to have better cognitive abilities, so initiatives that help improve diet quality may be a good strategy to maintain thinking skills in older adults,” Vernooij said in a statement. “More research is needed to confirm these results and to examine the pathways through which diet can affect the brain.”

“There is increasing evidence that a healthy diet supports brain cellular aging, with positive effects on cognition,” said Lisa Mosconi, PhD, of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, who was not involved in the study. “A large body of literature has shown that cognitively intact elderly and middle-aged people who follow healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, have lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia later in life,” she told MedPage Today.

While most of these studies have looked at diet and cognitive outcomes, few have assessed food intake and brain structure.

For this research, researchers evaluated 4,213 participants from the Rotterdam Study, a population-based community-dwelling cohort in the Netherlands, who did not have dementia or cortical infarcts. Participants had an average age of 65.7; 56.8% were female. They completed questionnaires about their frequency of eating and serving sizes of 389 food items and had MRI brain scans from 2005 to 2015.

The researchers evaluated adherence to 14 items in the Dutch dietary guidelines: vegetables, fruit, whole grain products, legumes, nuts, dairy, fish, tea, whole grains products, unsaturated fats and oils of total fats, red and processed meat, sugary beverages, alcohol, and salt. They calculated an overall diet score (0 to 14) reflecting adherence to the dietary guidelines by adding scores for these food groups. They also calculated a Mediterranean diet score based on median food intake of the study population.

Overall, participants had a median dietary guideline adherence score of 7 (on a theoretical range of 0 to 14) and a mean total brain volume of 932.01 mL.

After adjusting for age, sex, intracranial volume, education, energy intake, smoking, physical activity, and body mass index, a higher diet quality score was tied larger total brain volume, gray matter volume, white matter volume, and hippocampal volume.

Adjusting for other cardiovascular risk factors did not change the trend, and diet was not linked to brain white matter lesions or small brain bleeds. Effect estimates of the association between the Mediterranean diet score and brain volume were similar to the Dutch findings.

This is not surprising, observed Mosconi, whose research team recently showed that over a span of 3 years, middle-aged individuals who had low adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet had increases in Alzheimer’s plaque deposition and reductions in brain activity compared with people who had higher adherence. A high Dutch diet quality score “exhibits similar characteristics to a Mediterranean-style diet, though adjusted for Northern European dietary habits — meaning it has overall higher percentage of fat,” she said.

There is much confusion around diet and brain health and it’s up to doctors to provide clarity, Mosconi added: “One day people are told they should go vegan; the next day they can’t touch bread.”

“The scientific literature thus far indicates that a balanced diet pattern rich in healthy carbs and fiber, with low-to-moderate fat content, is supportive of brain aging,” she said. “There is no evidence for the opposite, which provides a strong argument in favor of recommending a Mediterranean-style diet for brain aging and dementia prevention.”

Several mechanisms might account for associations between diet and brain health, Vernooij and coauthors noted. Nutrition could have a direct effect on neuronal health or could influence vascular risk or cerebrovascular disease. Additionally, “we might be looking at an effect of neurodevelopment where variations in diet quality throughout life have different effects on brain structure and brain health,” they wrote.

The Rotterdam study shows only an association, not cause and effect, Vernooij said, and is limited by self-reported dietary data. It was conducted in a Dutch population and other groups may not have similar results.

This study was funded by Erasmus Medical Center and Erasmus University, Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMw), the Research Institute for Diseases in the Elderly (RIDE), the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports, the European Commission (DG XII), and the Municipality of Rotterdam.

Vernooij reported no disclosures relevant to the manuscript. Other researchers reported relationships with Nestle and Metagenics.

Primary Source

Neurology   Source Reference:

Croll P et al “Better diet quality relates to larger brain tissue volumes: The Rotterdam Study” Neurology 2018; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000005691.

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  1. The oligarchs eat the purest food known to man. Completely organic and thrive from homeopaths. Compare that with our depleted soil agribusiness devoid of any nutrients, the AMA and fluoridated water. OMG-GMO!!

  2. Take a statin and you’ve just bought a one way ticket to dementia. Eat a low fat high carb diet and you’ve just bought another one way ticket to dementia. Keep getting vaccinated with aluminum, keep using aluminum pots & pans, antiperspirants and keep drinking fluoridated water and you’ve sealed the deal. Everything our medical profession propounds about good health, reverse it, because they’re banking on you believing them. If they say black, it’s really white.

    • Agreed. Statins interfere with cholesterol production and the brain relies heavily on there being sufficient cholesterol in the brain. Also, research supports the role for aluminum in the formation of neurofibrillary tangles in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

      Another contributing factor appears to be atherosclerosis. Research summarised in these 2 short videos indicate that Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is due to athersclerotic blockages in the brain arteries and (in the 2nd video) suggesting that this is due to our high animal-based food intake. Genetics can be discounted since studies have shown certain Asian and African populations quickly developing Western diseases, including heart and brain disorders, when living in the West, compared with their country men and women who have stayed at home and kept up with their (formerly) traditional diets.

  3. Nobody is talking about essential minerals here. In simple terms, neurons are powered by sodium/potassium exchange.
    Most people have plenty of sodium but it’s a different story with potassium and other minerals.
    Most people tested have a zinc deficiency and magnesium deficiency can be as high as 80% of people tested in the US.
    Why does it matter? Complex processes in the body depend on minerals and a deficiency in one of the essentials can have a cascade effect that makes it impossible for some processes to complete successfully.

    In my view, if you want to maintain a healthy brain state make sure you get an adequate level of B vitamins, particularly B6, B9 and B12 and essential minerals, knock off the sugar, hydrolyzed vegetable oils (as commonly used in sweet biscuits) and read up about phytates and how to counteract their effects.

    One other thing, as far as possible, avoid antibiotics – they play havoc with your digestion and if that’s out of whack it will have an effect on your head. ‘The Gut Brain Connection’ – is another

  4. The most dangerous disease is diabetes that influenced brain function.
    Here is an abstract from the article in NY Times .
    “In Diabetes Fight , Raising Cash and keeping Trust ” points out the conflict of interest in the American Diabetes Association’s relationship with drug and food companies that make donations to the association.
    Instead , you even quote an official of the association as saying that sugar ingestion is of little consequence for prediabetics.
    I’ve been a Type 2 diabetic since 1999. The article claims that “obesity and inactivity are the key risk factors ” for Type 2 diabetes . Perhaps for some , but i was neither obese nor inactive, yet my blood sugar levels were off the chart.
    I… found a doctor who advised me TO CUT BACK on CARBOHYDRATES . By doing so, I’m able to achieve normal blood sugar numbers without using drugs or insulin.
    Perhaps someone should inform the American Diabetes Association that carbs turn into sugar when digested But there is no money to be made from such advice,which I’ve never seen from the American Diabetes Association. ”
    Fish oil caps and lecithin would be advisable for everyone.

  5. i guess we still do not understand two things: 1) that with the exception of fish, cow’s milk and animal flesh is not conducive to plant eaters (that is the human species), and 2) the Dutch of any other ethnic group can say what is good for everybody because we do not share each others biochemistry. Also, what is good for all people that are white, are not necessarily what is good for all people of color, and that, too, is a matter of chemistry and molecular biology. Stop trying to put everyone into the same bowl. We all cannot fit.

    • Fish + fresh salads . Lots of salads.
      This is not a Mediterranean diet though . It’s a healthy diet . As to Mediterranean – it’s pasta. My son has an Italian friend who used to brag how healthy he was eating pasta 3 times a day .
      I said ( sure to my son ): wait , time will go , we#ll take a look how healthy he would be….
      Sorry , he is far from 50 , but he became mentally sick .

  6. Omnivores at the top of their food chain on any planet enjoy multi-faceted benefits from eating anything that does not poison them.

    Anyone who puts forth the idea that every action is met by an equal and opposite reaction, is not observing Life.

  7. There are some interesting studies by the Dutch on the effects of starvation during WWII. Retarded stem cell development was indicated in a variety of illness from Schizophrenia to Diabetes.

  8. Our brains are mostly fat. 25% of body cholesterol is in the brain. Replace butter with margarine and lard with Crisco and dementia will be right behind it. You can speed up the process by going to a doctor and getting a prescription that lowers your cholesterol. Watched both my parents go down, Alzheimer’s , etc . was impossible to overcome the bs from their doctors .

    • I saw the same with mine. Scraped every bit of good fat off their diets when “low fat” came into vogue. Statins are as deadly a drug as there ever has been. Cholesterol causes heart attacks/disease like ingrown toenails cause malaria.

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