New research shows that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins B, C, D, and E supports brain function in older people and is also associated with lower levels of brain shrinkage. Additionally, diets shown to be high in trans-fat were associated with lower levels of mental capacity.
The study used blood tests to determine the diet and nutrient levels of 104 participants with a median age of 87. To determine mental abilities, the participants completed memory and thinking skills tests. Forty-two of the participants had MRI scans taken of their brains to find their brain volume.
Published in the medical journal Neurology, researchers reported that age is the largest contributing factor to mental decline, but diet is also made a significant difference. Vitamins and omega-3s are important components of any healthy diet, so it’s not surprising that these nutrients are also important for brain health. In particular, omega-3s have been shown to play an important role in mental health. I spoke with Michael Gonzalez-Wallace, author of Super Brain, Super Body, about the role these nutrients play in brain function.
“Eating Omege-3 fatty acids and a healthy balanced diet increases the production of proteins between nerve cells called BDNF,” said Gonzalez-Wallace. “It’s a very hot topic in the field of brain foods, health and neuroscience.” He explains that BDNF stands for Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which is important to the parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning and higher thinking.
“What I found very interesting about that study is that they added the vitamins,” said Gonzalez-Wallace. “It was a combination of vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids together that would make an impact on the brain and also aging.”
Gonzalez-Wallace agrees with the diet advice that’s supported by the research, adding that fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamins rather than depending too heavily on supplements in pill form. However, because omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in oily fish, some people may want to consider boosting their intake of this particular nutrient through supplements.