New Evidence Supports Diet-Brain Connection

June 14, 2018

A large study reveals a quality diet leads to larger brain tissue volumes, suggesting that nutrition has an effect on neurodegeneration via brain structure.

RESEARCH UPDATE

A large study reveals a quality diet leads to larger brain tissue volumes, suggesting that nutrition has an effect on neurodegeneration via brain structure.1

A total of 4213 people without dementia with an average age of 66 years participated in the study. They were asked to complete a questionnaire about how much they ate of nearly 400 items over the past month. The best diet consisted of vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, dairy and fish, but a limited intake of sugary drinks.

All participants had brain scans with magnetic resonance imaging to determine brain volume, the number of brain white matter lesions, and small brain bleeds.

After adjusting for age, sex, education, smoking, and physical activity, a higher diet score was linked to larger total brain volume, when taking into account head size differences. Those who consumed a better diet had an average of 2 milliliters more total brain volume than those who did not. To compare, having a brain volume that is 3.6 milliliters smaller is equivalent to one year of aging.

Clinical Implications

“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 senior author Meike W. Vernooij, MD, PhD, of the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “There are many complex interactions that can occur across different food components and nutrients and according to our research, people who ate a combination of healthier foods had larger brain tissue volumes.”

For the interview with an author of this study, see The Role of Diet in Brain Health.

References:

1. Croll PH, Voortman T, Ikram MA, et al. Better diet quality relates to larger brain tissue volumes. The Rotterdam Study. Neurology. 2018;90:e2166-e2173.