Friday, January 27, 2012

Good fats and vitamins keep the brain young!

By James J. Gormley

“Get rid of all trans fats in your diet!” is the main takeaway message from a December 28 study on vitamins and the brain in the journal Neurology.

According to lead author Gene Bowman ND MPH, an assistant professor of neurology at the NIA-Layton Center for Aging & Alzheimer Research at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, the study, entitled “Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging,” looked at the relationship between nutrient status, cognitive function and brain health in 104 elderly participants, 62 percent of whom were women.

Utilizing eight distinct nutrient biomarker patterns (NBPs) out of 30 that were originally developed, the authors were able to see, by using psychological and cognitive tests, blood tests and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which participants had less brain shrinkage, or atrophy, and what these nutrient profiles suggest as to what dietary practices may be associated with better cognitive health as we age.

The nutrient biomarker pattern (NBP) was first tested and validated against food frequency questionnaire studies by Bowman and his colleagues in an earlier 2011 study which appeared in the journal, Alzheimer’s Disease & Related Disorders.

“What we’re doing is picking up on the plasma signatures of different nutrient combinations, which will help us come up with better nutritional and public health recommendations,” said Bowman, in a December 29 phone interview.

The results indicated that those who had the highest blood (plasma) levels of vitamins B, C, D and E and omega-3 fats (good fats) did the best on cognitive tests and had the healthiest brains; those who had the most bad fat, specifically trans fat, in their blood did the worst on cognitive tests and had the least healthy brains – meaning their brains showed some initial signs of volume loss, or shrinkage, an early warning for potential dementia or Alzheimer’s disease down the road.

According to Jeffrey Blumberg PhD, director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, the results of “the Bowman study are consistent with several of the studies completed by Martha Clare Morris (and her colleague, Christy Tangney).

“They are also consistent with those showing a beneficial relationship of B vitamins (especially B12) and brain volume published a couple years ago (from a British group). Similarly, observational studies have shown an inverse correlation between folate [folic acid] intake/status and risk for age-related dementias. The Physicians Health Study found beta-carotene is associated with less cognitive decline in aging. And some (but not all) studies have found a benefit of vitamin E supplementation on cognitive performance and/or rate of decline in Alzheimer’s disease.”

It is known that trans fats, which are found in deep-fried foods and as partially hydrogenated oils found in packaged snack and other processed foods, are bad. This study, however, is “the first study to look at trans fats in the context of brain health and functioning,’ added Bowman.

This study, said Bowman, was funded by the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). A future study, one that is in the works, will look at the impact of diet on cognition in people over many years or even decades, which is called a longitudinal study.

“Is all that frozen pizza really worth it?,” asked Bowman, who suggests, on the positive side, that people should consider eating more “fish, beans, citrus fruits [and] dark green leafy vegetables.”

Gormley Files Take-Away: Is pizza bad? No, it can be pretty healthy, and frozen pizza at your local health-food store is probably very healthy! But the takeaway here is the very real science that shows that diets drenched in nasty, oxidized trans fats and saturated fats, and low in nutrients makes the brain atrophy, or shrink. Diets rich in omega-3 fats, B vitamins and antioxidants (and low in the bad stuff) keep the old neuroprocessor between our ears healthy and peppy!
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