Ageing brain to benefit from nutrition, exercise and lifestyle: Review

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Nutrition

Dietary approaches to promote healthy brain ageing should look to factor in nutrition, exercise and lifestyle to target not only the brain but also overall cardio-metabolic health.

Those are the findings of a review, which confirm the promise of nutrition as a preventive strategy against cognitive decline.

In an academic-industry collaboration involving researchers from the University of East Anglia, Abbott Nutrition, the University of Barcelona and Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences, in Switzerland, findings pointed an all-encompassing approach, where lifestyle changes along with nutritional adjustments could well boost the neuro and physical qualities of ageing individuals.

“Decline in cognitive abilities with age occurs in healthy individuals throughout the adult lifespan,”​ commented the paper, led by Dr David Vauzour, research fellow in Molecular Nutrition at the University of Norwich.

“Moreover, the line between normal and pathological ageing is not well-defined as neurological diseases start years before any clinical symptoms arise.

“Several health conditions such as CVD, diabetes or obesity are closely related to cognition.”

Ageing populations are increasing dramatically in almost every country in the next few decades.  According to the European Commission and Eurostat, by 2060, the elderly population will be expected to grow from 17.4% to nearly 30% worldwide.

The wealth of disparate data related to how nutrients and whole diets affects cognitive health and ageing threatens to slow down progress on addressing age-related health.  

Randomised placebo-controlled trials (RCTs) remain the gold standard in confirming the effect of a nutritional intervention on cognitive decline, maintenance or improvement.

However, such trials may be impossible to conduct for some nutrients, where subtle effects are predicted to add up over decades and are influenced by individual differences in the rate of cognitive decline.

The review also discusses preclinical and clinical studies that provide valuable data regarding the effect of certain dietary patterns and/or specific nutrients on cognitive function.

For example​, dietary habits such as overfeeding, high caloric/low dietary fibre diet or consumption of low antioxidant nutrients and sedentary lifestyle have been reported as factors for oxidative stress and brain disorders.

It also describes changes to the protective blood-brain barrier (BBB), which may be one target for nutritional therapies aimed at maintaining cognitive function.

This area and underlying changes at the BBB that influence transport and concentration of nutrients in the brain remain an open area for research.

Metabolomic approach

In the last decade, metabolomics has emerged as a data-driven approach for biomarker discovery.

The food metabolome represents all the metabolites present in human tissues and biofluids that directly derive from the digestion and metabolism of food chemicals and is affected by the dietary habits and the metabolic capacity of individuals.

In total, more than 145 candidate biomarkers have been proposed for about 20 foods through food metabolome studies, and interestingly about 75% were phytochemical metabolites.

The Phenotyping using Metabolomics for Nutritional Epidemiology (PhenoMeNEp) project used a well-characterised cohort of French adults in identifying the strongest discriminant of coffee intake as Atractyligenine glucuronide, a phase II metabolite of a diterpene,

This metabolite contributes to the bitter taste of roasted coffee and which has never been reported in significant amounts in any other food sources.

Likewise an initiative, the FoodBAll project, funded by the European Joint Programming Initiative Healthy Diet for Healthy Life, has identified a large range of new nutritional biomarkers using metabolomics.

“Beyond biomarker discovery, food metabolome profiling covering a wide range of bioactives and biomarkers of intake in biofluids may become a new method for nutritional assessment, once the current technical difficulties for rapid and complete profile annotation will be overcome.”

Active lifestyle

The review also highlights the benefits of physical activity citing an Indonesian study, where it was found that older people who engaged in sports had a halved risk of dementia. These findings were similar to data from the US and other countries.

The research team theorised that exercise can lower blood pressure and total cholesterol, can reduce abdominal fat and improve immune and lung function, as well as improve cardiovascular function, which improves cerebral blood flow.

“A multi-disciplinary change in lifestyles (combining exercise with healthy diets) with a focus on midlife is the most important factor for prevention of dementia,” ​the team said.

“Therefore, changing the lifestyle to a healthier one which includes exercise and a healthy diet can reduce the risk for both heart disease and dementia.”

Source: Ageing Research Reviews

Published online ahead of print:

“Nutrition for the ageing brain: Towards evidence for an optimal diet.”

Authors: David Vauzour et al.

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