A diet high in omega 3 fatty acids — found naturally in fish and other food — and high in several different kinds of vitamins helps keep your brain from shrinking, according to new research. Brain shrinkage is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in older adults.
Those with diets high in omega 3 fatty acids and in vitamins C, D, E and the B vitamins also had higher scores on mental thinking tests than people with diets low in those nutrients.
Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D are primarily found in fish. The B vitamins and antioxidant vitamins C and E are primarily found in fruits and vegetables.
In another finding, the study showed that people with diets high in trans fats were more likely to have brain shrinkage and lower scores on the thinking and memory tests than people with diets low in trans fats.
Trans fats are primarily found in packaged, fast, fried and frozen food, baked goods and margarine spreads.
The study involved 104 people with an average age of 87 and very few risk factors for memory and thinking problems. Blood tests were used to determine the levels of various nutrients present in the blood of each participant. All of the participants also took tests of their memory and thinking skills.
A total of 42 of the participants had MRI scans to measure their brain volume.
Overall, the participants had good nutritional status, but seven percent were deficient in vitamin B12 and 25 percent were deficient in vitamin D.
“Nutrient biomarkers in the blood account for a significant amount of the variation in both brain volume and thinking and memory scores,” said study author Gene Bowman, ND, MPH, of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Nutrient biomarkers measure things like vitamin and omega 3 levels in a person.
For the thinking and memory scores, the nutrient biomarkers accounted for 17 percent of the variation in the scores.
Other factors such as age, number of years of education and high blood pressure accounted for 46 percent of the variation.
For brain volume alone, the nutrient biomarkers accounted for 37 percent of the variation. The higher the account of the variation, the more that the nutrients — gotten through your diet — are likely to be a significant contributing factor to that factor.
“These results need to be confirmed, but obviously it is very exciting to think that people could potentially stop their brains from shrinking and keep them sharp by adjusting their diet,” Bowman said.
The study was the first to use nutrient biomarkers in the blood to analyze the effect of diet on memory and thinking skills and brain volume. Previous studies have looked at only one or a few nutrients at a time or have used questionnaires to assess people’s diet.
But the problem with questionnaires is that they rely on people’s memory of their diet, which may not always be that accurate. They also do not account for how much of the nutrients are absorbed by the body, which can be an issue in the elderly.
The research was published in the December 28, 2011, online issue of the journal Neurology.
Source: American Academy of Neurology