Eat your way to a healthy brain

Credit: Louis Hansel/ Unsplash.

Research has found that the volume of the brain and/or its weight declines with age at a rate of around 5% per decade after age 40 with the actual rate of decline possibly increasing with age, particularly over age 70.

In a study from Deakin University, scientists found people who eat a healthy diet during middle age have a larger brain volume than those with less healthy diets.

This suggests that food choices in midlife may reduce the risk of dementia and other degenerative brain disorders as we age.

In the study, researchers examined the eating habits and brain volumes of adults aged between 40 to 65.

They looked at data from nearly 20,000 participants in the UK Biobank, a globally accessible database containing genetic and health information from half a million people.

The participants completed a diet recall analysis and had an MRI to assess brain volume. The team looked at three measures of diet quality.

They focused on the Mediterranean Diet Score, or how closely people’s diets aligned with the Mediterranean diet, as this particular dietary pattern has been widely studied in relation to dementia risk and brain health.

The Mediterranean diet additionally encourages people to eat whole grains and fish, while limiting red meat.

The team found those who ate a healthy variety of foods, including plenty of vegetables, fruit, grains, and good oils, had more grey matter and larger brain volume than those whose diets included less of those foods.

The study found the Mediterranean diet was beneficial, but it was just as helpful to eat the varied diet recommended by WHO.

Significantly, the research also found that the association between diet and brain volume was greater in men than women.

The researchers say there is no blood test that can detect dementia during midlife, but brain volume is an important indicator of brain health.

Brain volume begins to decrease, relative to head size, from midlife into old age and we know increased brain shrinkage can precede dementia.

This research shows that diet quality needs to be addressed well before old age so that people can give themselves the best chance of reducing dementia risk.

The team says they need to look more closely at why diet has a greater impact on brain volume in men than in women.

But, overall, these findings suggest midlife may be a really important life stage to address unhealthy eating habits, not just to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, but to protect brain health.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Vitamin B supplements could help reduce dementia risk.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and Vitamin D deficiency linked to higher dementia risk.

The study was conducted by Dr. Helen Macpherson et al and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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