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Diet Patterns Linked With Brain Health

People With Diets High in Vitamins B, C, D, E, and Omega-3s Had Less Brain Shrinkage, Higher Scores on Thinking Tests
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Diet and Brain Health: Results continued...

The team looked at 30 different nutrient biomarkers. Those most consistently linked to brain health were the vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and trans fats.

The declines in mental and thinking ability were attributable more to age and other risk factors, but diet did seem to play a role. For the variation found in the tests of mental and thinking abilities, Bowman's team found risk factors such as age explained about 46% of the variation. Diet explained less, about 17%, Bowman says.

For the variation in brain volume, diet seems to matter as much as the other risk factors. Diet explained about 37% of the variation, he says. The other risk factors explained about another 40%.

The study was looking just at one point in time, Bowman says, which is a limitation of the study. "We can't say these patterns predict rate of change over time."

Diet and Brain Health: Perspective

As the research progresses, the study results suggest someday it may be possible to slow cognitive declines through  diet, Christy Tangney, PhD, associate professor of clinical nutrition at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, tells WebMD. She wrote an editorial to accompany the study.

Down the road, she says, the researchers might use a blood measure that reflects a typical diet, not just a point in time.

However, she says, it is encouraging that their results are similar to those in other studies that looked at diet and brain health but used questionnaires instead of a blood test.

Another study limitation is its small size and that the people studied were not diverse, says Heather Snyder, PhD, senior associate director of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer's Association. She reviewed the study findings.

Until more research is done, she says eating a heart-healthy diet -- which may also help your brain -- is the best advice.

Bowman agrees that the standard advice to eat more fruits and vegetables and fish and avoid trans fats seems wise. Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D are found in fish. The B, C, and E vitamins he linked with less brain shrinkage are in fruits and vegetables.

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