The March 2019 issue of NeuroImage published findings from researchers at the University of Illinois of an association between higher plasma levels of specific nutrients and improved brain connectivity and cognitive performance in older individuals.
The study included 116 participants aged 65 and 75 years. Plasma samples collected from the subjects were analyzed for 32 nutrients that are present in significant amounts in a Mediterranean diet. Subjects underwent tests of general intelligence, executive function and memory. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain assessed brain network efficiency within seven connectivity networks.
“The basic question we were asking was whether diet and nutrition are associated with healthy brain aging,” stated senior author Aron K. Barbey, of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. “And instead of inferring brain health from a cognitive test, we directly examined the brain using high-resolution brain imaging.”
Nutrient biomarker patterns associated with better cognitive performance included omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 plus omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, carotenoids, lycopene, and vitamins that included B2, B12, D, and folate. Higher omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids and carotene were associated with enhanced functional brain network efficiency.
“Efficiency has to do with how information is communicated within the network,” Dr. Barbey explained. “We looked at ‘local efficiency’ – how well information is shared within a spatially confined set of brain regions – and also ‘global efficiency,’ which reflects how many steps are required to transfer information from any one region to any other region in the network.
“Our study suggests that diet and nutrition moderate the association between network efficiency and cognitive performance,” Dr. Barbey concluded. “This means that the strength of the association between functional brain network efficiency and cognitive performance is associated with the level of the nutrients.”