Scientists say people with better diets have bigger brains

Maricruz Casares
May 17, 2018

The area of the brain that's responsible for processing memories, called the hippocampus, was also larger in people who ate healthier diets.

While the study did not delve into whether diet could change brain volumes or affect brain function, Vernooij and Pauline Croll, a co-author on the paper and a PhD student in epidemiology and radiology at Erasmus, believe the findings could lead to new research on how diet could affect brain disorders.

The latest study, which was published in the journal Neurology, involved people with an average age of 66 who were dementia-free. They were questioned on their diet, which was ranked with a score of zero to 14.

"People with greater brain volume have been shown in other studies to have better cognitive abilities, so initiatives that help improve diet quality may be a good strategy to maintain thinking skills in older adults", said Vernooij in a statement. The combined effect of eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, dairy and fish seemed to contribute to larger brain volume. After adjusting for age, sex, education, smoking and physical activity that a higher diet score was linked to larger total brain volume, when taking into account head size differences. There was no association between diet quality and white matter lesion volume, lacunes, or microbleeds. "More research is needed to confirm these results and to examine the pathways through which diet can affect the brain".

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This is not surprising, observed Mosconi, whose research team recently showed that over a span of 3 years, middle-aged individuals who had low adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet had increases in Alzheimer's plaque deposition and reductions in brain activity compared with people who had higher adherence.

"The scientific literature thus far indicates that a balanced diet pattern rich in healthy carbs and fiber, with low-to-moderate fat content, is supportive of brain aging", she said. Additionally, "we might be looking at an effect of neurodevelopment where variations in diet quality throughout life have different effects on brain structure and brain health", they wrote.

Vernooij reported no disclosures relevant to the manuscript.

One author disclosed financial ties to Nestle and Metagenics.

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