In a new study, scientists explored the links between three measures known to independently predict healthy aging: nutrient intake, brain structure and cognitive function.
The study found that blood markers of two saturated fatty acids, along with certain omega-6, -7 and -9 fatty acids, correlated with better scores on tests of memory and with larger brain structures in the frontal, temporal, parietal and insular cortices.
“Our findings reveal that we can use nutrient biomarkers, cognitive tests and MRI measures of brain structure to account for much of the variation in healthy aging,” B said Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology, bioengineering and neuroscience at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “This allows us to better understand how nutrition contributes to health, aging and disease,”
The researchers collected data from 111 healthy older adults with MRI structural scans, blood-based biomarkers of 52 dietary nutrients and cognitive performance on tests of memory and intelligence. By combining these measures using a data-fusion approach, the team found associations between dozens of features that appear to work in tandem to promote brain and cognitive health in older adults.
“If we just look at nutrition as it relates to brain structures and we don’t study cognition, or if we look at nutrition as it relates to cognition and we don’t study the brain, then we’re actually missing really important pieces of information.”
The most obvious features that clustered together in the new analysis involved the size of gray-matter volumes in the frontal, temporal and parietal cortices. Study participants who scored higher on the memory tests tended to have larger gray-matter volumes and higher levels of markers of omega-6, -7 and -9 fatty acids in their blood. Those who did more poorly on the cognitive tests also had smaller gray-matter volumes in those brain regions and lower levels of those dietary markers, the analysis revealed.
While the study only reveals associations between these factors and does not prove that dietary habits directly promote brain health, it adds to the evidence that nutrition is a key player in healthy aging, the researchers said.
Tanveer Talukdar, Christopher E. Zwilling, Aron K. Barbey. Integrating Nutrient Biomarkers, Cognitive Function, and Structural MRI Data to Build Multivariate Phenotypes of Healthy Aging. The Journal of Nutrition, 2023; DOI: 10.1016/j.tjnut.2023.03.016
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau. “Study links nutrients, brain structure, cognition in healthy aging.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 April 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/04/230425205326.htm>.
Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh