Diet can play a role in cognitive function across diverse races and ethnicities

Diet can play a role in cognitive function across diverse races and ethnicities

Food choices and their consequences may certainly affect cognitive function. A new study led by investigators in Brigham and Women’s Hospitala founding member of General Brigham’s Requiem The health care system is expanding, along with the external collaborators of previously published work (focusing on Puerto Rican individuals in the United States) by including additional races and ethnicities. The team found that certain plasma metabolites – substances that arise when the body breaks down food – were associated with global cognitive function scores across a variety of races and ethnicities. Their findings are published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Our study has tremendous strengths in expanding the sample size and adding demographic characteristics over what previous research has done,” he said. Tamar Sofar, Ph.D., Director of the Basic Biostatistics Program in Sleep Epidemiology and a member of Division of sleep disorders and circadian clock in Brigham. It also shows that studies that begin with a focus on minorities can lead to insights that may be useful to other populations. We hope our findings will help people make specific dietary choices and improve their cognitive health.”

Nowadays, researchers can detect biomarkers associated with health changes and disease by using approaches such as metabolic profiling, which can scan thousands of metabolites within blood samples. A preliminary study in Boston looking at older adults of Puerto Rican descent found a series of metabolites associated with measured cognitive function. Building on this work, Brigham researchers tested associations of cognitive metabolic functions in 2,222 Hispanic/Latino American adults from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study (HCHS/SOL), and in 1,365 Europeans and 478 African Americans from atherosclerosis risk in communities ( ARIC) study. They then applied Mendelian Randomization (MR) analyzes to identify causal associations between metabolites and cognitive function, as well as between the Mediterranean diet and cognitive function.

The team discovered that six metabolites were consistently associated with lower global cognitive function across all studies. Four of them were sugars or derivatives of sugars. Another metabolite, beta-cryptoxanthin, has been associated with higher global cognitive function in HCHS/SOL and is also closely associated with fruit consumption.

“It is possible that these metabolites may be biomarkers of a more direct relationship between diet and cognitive function,” said lead author Dr. Inat Granot Hershkowitz, who worked on the study as a postdoctoral fellow at Brigham’s Soover Laboratory.

The diet itself can be an important source of many metabolites, including some that have positive or negative associations with cognitive function. In this study, a Mediterranean diet score was associated with higher levels of beta-cryptoxanthin, which was positively associated with cognitive function. The Mediterranean diet was also negatively associated with levels of other metabolites, which were associated with reduced cognitive function. Previous research has also shown that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with cognitive benefits.

While the study had limitations such as its cross-sectional censorship design that limited conclusions about the potential impact of modulating metabolic levels on cognitive function (causal inference), the researchers attempted to use MR analyzes to explain unmeasured confusion and establish a certain level of causal inference. Their results showed weak causal effects between specific metabolites and global cognitive function. The researchers recommend that future studies evaluate the metabolite’s associations with cognitive function and work to assess whether the observed associations actually indicate that changes in diet – shown in altered metabolic levels – can improve cognitive health.

“While the causal effect seen in our study may be weak, repeated research has shown that the Mediterranean diet is associated with better health outcomes, including cognitive health,” Sofer said. “Our study also supports the importance of a healthy diet toward protecting cognitive function, consistent with race and ethnicity.”

Disclosures: Co-author Bruce Kristal is the inventor of the generic metabolic IP that is licensed for Metabolon through Weill Medical School at Cornell University and which receives royalty payments through Weill Medical School at Cornell University. He also advises in the company and has a small share in the capital. Metabolon provides biochemical profiling services and develops molecular diagnostic assays for disease detection and monitoring. Metabolon does not have any rights or proprietary access to the research results submitted and/or the new intellectual property created under these grants/studies.

Funding: The Hispanic Community Health Study/Hispanic Study is a collaborative study supported by decades from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (HHSN268201300001I/N01-HC-65233, HHSN268201300004I/N01-HC-65234, HHSN268201300002I/N01-HC-65235, HHSN268201300003I/N01 -65236, HHSN268201300005I/N01-HC-65237). The following institutes/centers/offices have contributed to HCHS/SOL by transferring funds to the NHLBI: National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institute For Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health – Office of Dietary Supplements. In addition, this work was supported by the National Institute on Aging (R21AG070644, R01AG048642, RF1AG054548, RF1AG061022, R21AG056952, P30AG062429, and P30AG059299). Support for the metabolic data was provided by the JLH Foundation (Houston, TX). The Study of Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities was funded in whole or in part with federal funds from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Health and Human Services under contract numbers (HHSN268201700001I, HHSN268201700002I, HHSN268201700003I, HHSN268201700004I, and HHSN268201700005I).

Paper cited: Granot-Hershkovitz et al. “Plasma metabolites associated with cognitive function across races/ethnicities underscore the importance of healthy nutrition.” Alzheimer’s and Dementia DOI: 10.1002 / alz.12786

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