Good Diet May Protect An Aging Brain

Memory linked to vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Older people may gain brain benefits from high levels of omega-3 fatty acids or vitamins B, C, D and E. High levels of trans-fats may mean worse mental abilities and more brain shrinkage.

Those results provide strong hints about the nutrients' and trans-fats' effects on the brain, but other research will need to prove the direct cause-and-effect relationships, says study author Dr. Gene Bowman, ND, from the neurology department at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

"Eat a healthy diet to protect your entire body."

The study of 104 healthy elderly people linked brain benefits to two dietary categories: people with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids or vitamins C, D, E, B1, B2, B6, B12 and folate. Fatty fish such as salmon naturally have omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Fruits and vegetables are high in the other vitamins.

Decreased mental abilities and smaller brains were linked to high levels of trans-fats often found in foods such as margarine, fried and baked items, and fast food.

People with high levels of the vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids performed better on tests of memory and thinking abilities than those lacking high levels. The study linked the nutrients to 17 percent of the good test scores.

Almost half the good scores came from three other major factors: lower age, good blood pressure or more education

High nutrient levels appeared in approximately a third of the people with the least brain shrinkage. Some brain shrinkage often occurs with age, but researchers monitor it because even more shrinkage often appears in people with Alzheimer's and similar diseases.

This study is unique because it measured levels of 30 nutrients extracted from food into the blood. Less precise measurements include people writing down what they ate, Dr. Bowman says.

Dr. Bowman and colleagues published the study in Neurology. The National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies funded the research.

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Review Date: 
January 3, 2012
Last Updated:
January 4, 2012