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‘Not enough people are talking about nutrition and brain function’, says DSM's VP of Science, Communication & Advocacy

By Stephen Daniells+

Last updated on 24-Jun-2016 at 18:11 GMT2016-06-24T18:11:29Z

DHA, vitamins E, C and D, and the B vitamins are cheap, and have virtually no side effects when used at recommended doses, wrote the authors
DHA, vitamins E, C and D, and the B vitamins are cheap, and have virtually no side effects when used at recommended doses, wrote the authors

Vitamins and the omega-3 DHA are a ‘viable alternative approach to delaying brain aging’, says a new review of the scientific literature, but are people talking about nutrition and brain function?

According to a new review in Nutrition , many members of the general population consume inadequate amounts of various vitamins, even in industrialized countries, with elderly people at an even great risk of insufficient levels, particularly in institutionalized settings.

And because several vitamins and DHA are required for proper brain functioning, insufficiencies and deficiencies in such nutrients may increase the risk of mild cognitive impairment (and subsequently increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease), wrote Hasan Mohajeri, PhD, Barbara Troesch, PhD, and Peter Weber, MD, PhD, from DSM Nutritional Products Ltd. (Basel, Switzerland).

“Essential nutrients may have great potential in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease if individuals have a life-long optimal supply,” they wrote. “The lack of an established therapy against Alzheimer’s disease, whose incidence is anticipated to increase further and rapidly in an aging society, and the established roles of a whole host of (micro)nutrients draw our attention towards optimizing the nutritional status of not only the elderly but also the general population.”

‘I hope this paper stimulates more nutrition research’

Commenting on the paper, Dr Michael McBurney, PhD, VP Science, Communication & Advocacy – DSM Nutritional Products, told NutraIngredients-USA that "not enough people are talking about nutritional status and brain function".

“The pathogenesis of cognitive loss and dementia is not understood and needs to be. The brain is very active metabolically. Vitamins serve as co-factors of glucose metabolism and antioxidants, quenching free radicals to prevent peroxidation of polyunsaturated acids, e.g. docosahexaenoic acid (DHA),” said Dr McBurney.  

 “With aging populations in many nations of the world, understanding the role of nutrition in maintaining cognitive function is increasingly important. Not only from a health care cost standpoint but because age-related changes in memory and cognitive skills stress personal relationships and decrease quality of life for all involved.

“I hope this paper stimulates more nutrition research.”

Vitamin intake of elderly men (top) and women (bottom) in the US population relative to Estimated Average Requirements for over 70 years old. Source: Mohajeri et al. Nutrition, published by Elsevier

Key nutrients

Drs Mohajeri, Troesch, and Weber note that therapy around Alzheimer’s disease is targeted towards treating symptoms and not preventing the progression of the disease. Maintaining a “healthy neuronal population in the aging brain for as long as possible”, including ensuring an optimal nutrient supply, is therefore a promising alternative strategy, they said.

“Some of the most promising data has been reported for B-vitamins, vitamin E and DHA supporting brain functions and improving memory for healthy older adults experiencing declines in cognitive function that occur naturally with age,” they wrote. “Such decline is known to precede AD. Acknowledging these benefits, the European Food Safety Authority approved health claims for these micronutrients such as ‘contributes to normal mental performance’, ‘contributes to normal psychological functions’, ‘contributes to normal homocysteine metabolism’ and ‘contributes to the maintenance of normal brain function’ to mention a few.”

Mohajeri et al. also noted that data from mechanistic studies, epidemiology and RCTs support the potential of DHA, vitamins E, C and D, and the B vitamins in helping neurons to cope with aging. “These nutrients are cheap in use, have virtually no side effects when used at recommended doses, are essential for life, have established modes of action, and are broadly accepted by the general public.”

Source: Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2014.06.016
“Inadequate supply of vitamins and DHA in the elderly: implications for brain aging and Alzheimer’s type dementia”
Authors: M.H. Mohajeri, B. Troesch, P. Weber

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