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Could A Healthy Diet Prevent The Brain From Shrinking?

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AFP Relaxnews

New research suggests that a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, and healthy fats could help prevent the brain shrinking as we age, which in turn could help preserve cognitive skills. Carried out by researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the study looked at 4,213 participants with an average age of 66, none of whom had dementia.

Participants were asked to complete a food questionnaire indicating how many of the nearly 400 items listed they had eaten in the past month. The quality of each participant's diet was given a score of zero to 14, with diet quality based on Dutch dietary guidelines. A diet high in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, dairy, fish and low in sugary drinks was considered to be the best diet, with a score of seven the average for the participants.

Participants then underwent brain scans using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine their brain volume, the number of brain white matter lesions, and small brain bleeds. After taking into account other influencing factors such as age, sex, education, smoking, physical activity, as well as head size differences, the team found that a higher diet score was linked to larger total brain volume. More specifically, the results showed that those who ate a better quality diet had an average of two milliliters more total brain volume than those who did not.

To put this into perspective, a brain volume that is 3.6 milliliters smaller is equivalent to one year of aging. However, diet was not linked to brain white matter lesions or small brain bleeds.

The team also looked at the effects of a diet based on the renowned Mediterranean diet. Similar to the Dutch dietary guidelines, the diet is also rich in vegetables, fish and nuts, with the team finding that both diets had a similar, positive effect on brain volume. "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 study author Meike W. Vernooij. "More research is needed to confirm these results and to examine the pathways through which diet can affect the brain."

Vernooij also added that the link between a better quality diet and a larger brain volume was influenced not by one specific food group, but instead by several food groups. "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," said Vernooij.

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