February 22, 2024

Mediterranean and MIND diets are good for brain health during midlife

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A new study suggests that Mediterranean and MIND diets may help improve memory and cognition during midlife. Image credit: Artur Kozlov/Getty Images.
  • A new study found that a Mediterranean or MIND diet resulted in better cognitive health for women.
  • The study of 509 twins showed that those who followed these diets retained better episodic and visuospatial working memory after ten years.
  • The possible mechanisms by which diets help maintain cognitive health involve specific gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acids.

A new study analyzing data from middle-aged women examines the potential benefits of a Mediterranean or MIND diet on cognitive health.

The study included genetically identical (monozygotic) twins and fraternal (dizygotic) twins.

The study found that in monozygotic twin pairs, the twins who adhered more to the Mediterranean or MIND diet retained slightly stronger episodic and visuospatial working memory.

This observation was significant for twins with greater adherence to the Mediterraneaneating pattern.

Monozygotic twins both develop from a single egg, or ‘ovum’. Fraternal or ‘dizygotic’ twins are born together, but do not hatch from the same egg. They are sometimes called co-twins or birth partners. Monozygotic twins are genetically identical. Dizygotic twins share about 50% of their genes.

In this study, the researchers analyzed data from 509 female twins who registered with the UK Adult Twin Registry between 1992 and 2004. Of this group, 34% were monozygotic and 66% dizygotic.

The study cohort included healthy twins with a complete set of baseline data on nutrition – via questionnaires – and cognitive performance. About a decade later, between 2008 and 2010, twins underwent new cognitive tests and the participants’ stool samples were analyzed.

Higher compliance with the MIND diet at baseline was associated with greater bacterial abundance Ruminococcaceae and short-chain fatty acids at follow-up.

However, this association was not significant after adjustment for dietary fiber intake.

The research has been published in the journal Research and therapy for Alzheimer’s.

“This study is distinguished by its focus on female twins and provides a unique perspective on the interplay between diet and cognitive health,” said Michelle Routhenstein, a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in heart disease at EntirelyNourished, and who was not involved here used to be. study.

“By taking into account shared genetics and early life experiences, it delves deeper into the potential cognitive benefits associated with Mediterranean and MIND diets, especially as individuals reach middle age,” she added.

Dr. Thomas Holland, from the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition at Rush University, also not involved in the study, commented on its significance for Medical news today.

“This study provides further evidence that our dietary habits in middle age can have a significant impact on our cognitive health,” he told us. “It goes beyond the assumption that such habits are useful only later in life and highlights their relevance during midlife.”

He noted that when we think about cognitive development, we often think of it as “a trajectory of improvement from childhood through adulthood to middle age, with the expectation of some decline as we grow older.”

Importantly, he said: “This study suggests that we possess the potential to increase our cognitive resilience and build cognitive reserve during middle age. These benefits may extend into old age, allowing us to better maintain our cognitive skills over time.”

The cognitive health benefits reported in this study were less dramatic than sometimes seen in studies of older adults.

This may be because, as Dr. Holland suggested: “It is generally accepted that individuals at this stage are already operating at higher levels of cognitive function and approaching a theoretical ceiling. These dynamics contribute to the reduced observable effect in this demographic group.”

Cognitive health is generally measured by testing various functions, of which episodic and visuospatial memory are just two.

“Episodic memory refers to our ability to use personal experiences to learn, retain, and recall new information when necessary,” explains Dr. out of Holland.

“Meanwhile,” he said, “visuospatial memory involves the ability to recognize objects and their spatial locations, internalize this information, and then process and retain specific details about the objects.”

“These cognitive functions are crucial quasi-biomarkers for ultimate cognitive health,” Routhenstein noted, “as deficits in them often manifest early in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, making their preservation indicative of a lower risk of cognitive decline.”

Such cognitive skills, and others, collectively contribute to global cognition.

“Although a deficit in one cognitive domain does not necessarily mean an overall decline in global cognition,” said Dr. Holland, “it can serve as a valuable indicator of cognitive health or its trajectory.”

Both the Mediterranean and MIND diets are anti-inflammatory, healthy diets.

The study authors can provide an additional clue that explains the mechanistic link between these diets and strong cognitive reserve: Ruminococcaceae and short-chain fatty acids.

Routhenstein explained: “Ruminococcaceae Bacteria in the intestines produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as acetate, propionate and butyrate through fermentation of dietary fiber, which contributes to intestinal health and exerts anti-inflammatory effects crucial for protecting neuronal function.”

“These SCFAs, in turn, play a role in modulating immune system activity by reducing the recruitment of monocytes and neutrophils, thereby exhibiting anti-inflammatory properties.”

—Dr. Thomas Holland, physician-scientist

“Additionally,” Routhenstein noted, “SCFAs act as energy substrates for intestinal epithelial cells and can cross the blood-brain barrier, supply energy to brain cells and modulate neurotransmitter levels, potentially improving cognitive function.”

Nevertheless, the experts pointed out that people need to prioritize more than just their diet to keep the brain healthy as they age.

“While nutrition plays a critical role, it is only one part of a comprehensive, healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Holland.

He mentioned the following lifestyle interventions for maintaining cognitive health:

  • engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity
  • cultivating an active social circle
  • participating in mentally stimulating activities (i.e. visiting museums or discovering new hobbies)
  • prioritizing the quality and quantity of sleep
  • implementing stress reduction techniques

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