Better Diet Tied to Bigger Brains

Modesto Morganelli
Mag 17, 2018

"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.

The latest study, which was published in the journal Neurology, involved people with an average age of 66 who were dementia-free. The participants self-reported their diet by completing a questionnaire asking how much they ate of almost 400 items over the past month.

Based on the Dutch dietary guidelines, the researchers examined the quality of the diets based on the intake of the following food groups: vegetables, fruit, whole grain products, legumes, nuts, dairy, fish, tea, unsaturated fats and oils of total fats, red and processed meat, sugary beverages, alcohol and salt.

Those with a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish, dairy and whole grains scored highest.

The quality of each person's diet was ranked with a score of zero to 14.

Participants then had MRI scans to determine their brain volume.

"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.

The average brain volume was 932 milliliters.

While the study did not delve into whether diet could change brain volumes or affect brain function, Vernooij and Pauline Croll, a co-author on the paper and a PhD student in epidemiology and radiology at Erasmus, believe the findings could lead to new research on how diet could affect brain disorders.

That is the equivalent of a brain being more than six months younger, as it shrinks with age. Even taking into account brain-shrinking activities such as smoking and failing to exercise, those who ate well had an average of two millilitres more brain volume than those who did not.

"There are many complex interactions that can occur across different food components and nutrients and according to our research, people who ate a combination of healthier foods had larger brain tissue volumes", she added. There was no association between diet quality and white matter lesion volume, lacunes, or microbleeds.

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