Here’s the best diet for keeping your brain young, according to neuroscientists

Here’s the best diet for keeping your brain young, according to neuroscientists

From the first time we forget our partner’s birthday or realise we can’t recall what we ate for breakfast, we’re all very much aware of time’s cruel effect on our brains. But some people seem to cope better with this than others – and a new study suggests their slow ageing may come down to their diet.

Published in the journal Nature Aging, the research suggests that people with slow cognitive ageing share the same combination of nutrients in their bodies.

So what’s the best diet to keep your brain healthy? According to the study, the specific nutrients associated with slower ageing are those typically found in the Mediterranean diet. This includes plenty of seasonal plant foods (including fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes), olive oil, small but daily portions of dairy, weekly consumption of fish or poultry, and infrequent consumption of red meat.

“This is an important study further adding to the mounting evidence of the impact of nutrition on brain ageing,” UEA associate professor in molecular nutrition David Vauzour, who was not involved in the study, told BBC Science Focus.

To learn how specific nutrients can help your brain age more healthily, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln researchers combined neuroscience and nutritional science.

The 100 study participants, aged 65-75, were asked to fast before the scientists collected their blood plasma. With this, the researchers analysed the participants’ nutrient biomarkers. The participants then completed cognitive assessments and had MRI scans.

After these tests, the scientists split the participants into two groups: people with accelerated brain ageing and people whose ageing was slower than expected. This second group – people whose brain age was younger than it should be – had a distinct nutrient profile in their blood.

“The combination of brain imaging and blood-based biomarkers provides an unbiased assessment of brain health,” said Vauzour. “Such findings may help design targeted nutritional interventions aiming at improving brain function as we get older.”

So which specific nutrients make up the ideal nutrient profile? The researchers found that the healthiest brains benefitted from a combination of fatty acids, antioxidants, carotenoids (the colourful molecules found in many fruits and vegetables), vitamin E and choline (a nutrient typically found in foods like egg yolks, meat and fish, and legumes).

Though the Mediterranean diet is already recognised as beneficial to your health, the researchers think the results of their study could be used to mimic the diet for use in ‘nutraceuticals’, which are therapies that could improve brain health as we age.

In future, the research team want to conduct randomised controlled trials to test how administering specific nutrients impacts individuals’ brain health.

About our expert:

Dr David Vauzour is an associate professor in molecular nutrition at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School. His research focuses on developing dietary or therapeutic strategies to delay brain ageing, cognitive decline and cardiovascular disease, and he is part of the Norwich Institute for Healthy Aging. His research has been published in the journals Nutritional Neuroscience, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and Scientific Reports.

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Kerri Waldron

My name is Kerri Waldron and I am an avid healthy lifestyle participant who lives by proper nutrition and keeping active. One of the things I love best is to get to where I am going by walking every chance I get. If you want to feel great with renewed energy, you have to practice good nutrition and stay active.

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