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Study: Certain Diets Are Linked With Brain Shrinkage

By Nicholas Chan | June 9th, 2022

A new study finds a possible link between foods with inflammatory properties and smaller brain volume — a marker for brain aging. 

Experts emphasize that living a healthy lifestyle can help boost brain health and reduce chances of developing dementia. Diet is one among several key lifestyle choices that are linked with cognitive function. Now, new research dives deeper into the connection between what we eat and how the brain ages — looking closely at nutrients that can lead to inflammation, like carbohydrates, cholesterol and protein. 

The study, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, suggests that diets high in inflammatory nutrients are associated with aging and cerebral small vessel disease. 

According to Debora Melo van Lent, the study’s lead author and postdoctoral research fellow at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, research into the relationship between nutrition and dementia is nascent, compared to research into nutrition’s relationship with other health conditions, like diabetes or cardiovascular disease. In particular, she and colleagues wrote, there is a lack of evidence behind an inflammatory diet’s connection with markers of brain degeneration and vascular brain damage. Looking ahead, Melo van Lent hopes that the team’s research can help fill this gap and inform public health guidelines. 

For the study, the researchers combed through data of 1,897 participants, who were 62 years old on average. The analysis included people’s brain imaging and participant-generated reports of what they ate, which the researchers then  categorized into pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory diets. 

Pro-inflammatory diets include things like carbohydrates, cholesterol, protein, saturated fat and total fat, while, anti-inflammatory diets include alcohol and caffeine, beta-carotene, dietary fiber, folic acid, nutrients like magnesium, riboflavin and zinc, omega-3s and some key vitamins.

The team found that more inflammatory diets were linked with smaller volume of the brain’s gray matter, and with larger cavities (or lateral ventricular) in the brain. According to Melo van Lent, gray matter shrinkage and enlarged lateral ventricular are both signs of an aging brain. 

These results do not prove causation, Melo van Lent said, and the questionnaires are also prone to errors made by participants, and future research is needed into whether inflammatory diets contribute to brain aging over time. In an ongoing study, her team is studying the link between inflammatory diets, cognitive decline as well as amyloid and tau, biomarkers of dementia. 

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3 thoughts on “Study: Certain Diets Are Linked With Brain Shrinkage

  1. You might want to clarify this assertion: “Pro-inflammatory diets include things like carbohydrates, cholesterol, protein, saturated fat and total fat…”, since if you eliminate or reduce all of these, I’m pretty sure you are down to living off multivitamin and mineral pills. Therefore, this descriptor is not particularly helpful.

  2. I think Alzheimer’s and dementia are age related diseases only. Some people are more prone to the disease than others.

  3. Aren’t you basically describing the Mediterranean diet. I was reading Italians and others in that vicinity live longer and most active throughout a long life compared to most Americans and other countries. So how do you back up your statements?

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