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New research suggests that the foods we eat can improve brain health in older adults, potentially slowing down cognitive decline associated with aging. This emerging field of Nutritional Cognitive Neuroscience offers hope for preventing age-related brain deterioration.

Certain nutrients can enhance cognition in aging brains

The recent study featured in Nature Aging unveils a group of nutrients linked to promoting healthy brain aging. Analyzing the diets, cognitive skills, and brain scans of 100 elderly individuals, researchers found that those with elevated levels of these nutrients displayed larger brain volumes, improved white matter integrity, optimized brain network organization, and enhanced performance in intelligence and memory tests.

A study explores brain-boosting nutrients associated with healthier brain aging. These include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins (E and choline), and antioxidants (lutein and zeaxanthin). The study employs advanced brain imaging techniques to assess their collective impact, revealing alignment with the Mediterranean diet.

Researchers explored nutrient biomarkers, like fatty acids, which are recognized in nutrition for their health advantages. This research supports the Mediterranean diet’s positive impact on health, emphasizing foods containing these beneficial nutrients. Aron Barbey from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln highlights specific nutrient patterns linked to improved cognitive performance and brain health.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, present in foods such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils, play vital roles in brain health. They maintain the structural integrity of brain cells, aid in neuron communication, and reduce inflammation, which is associated with cognitive decline and diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Antioxidants protect brain from oxidative stress

Vitamin E, abundant in nuts, seeds, and leafy greens, acts as a potent antioxidant, safeguarding brain cells from oxidative stress, which increases with age. Choline, present in eggs, meat, and cruciferous vegetables, is crucial for acetylcholine production (a key neurotransmitter for memory) and maintaining brain cell membrane integrity.

On the other hand, lutein and zeaxanthin, primarily found in leafy greens like spinach and kale, accumulate in the brain, functioning as antioxidants, protecting brain cells from harmful free radicals. Higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin have been linked to improved memory, processing speed, and executive function in older adults, according to prior research.