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Dietary Patterns Linked to Better Brain Health in Late Life

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11 February 2019
CHeBA News: Dietary Patterns Linked to Better Brain Health in Late Life

HEIDI DOUGLASS | h.douglass@unsw.edu.au

A collaboration between researchers from UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), the Dementia Centre for Research Collaboration (DCRC) and the Nutrition and Dietetics Group at the University of Sydney has published a review which has confirmed a positive link between healthy dietary patterns and better brain health in older adults. 

The role of diet and nutrition for dementia prevention has rightly attracted much attention as there are currently no known treatments or supplements to prevent dementia.  However, the results of studies exploring the effects of single nutrients like vitamins or individual foods and brain health are inconsistent. The role of the whole diet and the interactions between beneficial bioactive nutrients is now believed to be critical for brain health.   

Previous reviews have focused mainly on the Mediterranean diet. This systematic review published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reviewed six random controlled trials and 31 cohort studies to investigate the benefits of many different dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean, Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH), Mediterranean-DASH diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) and Anti-inflammatory diets. It also compared other healthy diet patterns with western style diets that contained processed foods but few healthy foods.  

Lead author and PhD student at the DCRC, Ms Sophie Xi Chen, said that overall the findings support positive links between dietary patterns which are plant-based, rich in poly and mono-unsaturated fatty acids and reduced consumption of processed foods with better brain health in older adults.  

Co-author and Co-Director of the CHeBA, Professor Henry Brodaty, said the findings were significant. 

“With dementia a global concern placing extraordinary financial and social burden on patients, carers, and health care systems, it is imperative we look more closely at modifiable environmental factors – including nutrition,” said Professor Brodaty.

“Within dietary patterns, the synergies and interactions between multiple nutrients and foods may play an important role to prevent or slow cognitive decline,” said Ms Chen, who is also a clinical dietitian. “The MIND dietary pattern, which is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets and specifies eating particular amounts of brain healthy foods such as green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and berries, has shown protective effects in the USA and this requires further investigation.”

Co-author, Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and Senior Lecturer in Dietetics at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, Dr Fiona O’Leary, suggested that “this is exciting research and making our diets more plant based by including more vegetables, nuts, legumes and fruits and using healthy oils e.g. extra virgin olive oil is a really great start. We all would benefit from a higher nutrient diet, but from whole foods not supplements.”  

Professor Brodaty said more research is required for better understanding of the underlying mechanisms and effectiveness of dietary patterns in order to develop comprehensive and practical nutrition interventions and recommendations to protect against age-related cognitive decline and dementia with ageing.