- A new study finds that across races and ethnicities, metabolites from healthy diets may help protect brain health.
- Diet is an important source of many metabolites, which can be signs of different aspects of our health.
- Previous research has found that certain metabolites — including lipids, amino acids, and stimulants — are linked to cognitive decline and dementia.
New research by investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital has confirmed what is already known about the link between diet and cognition – that what we eat can affect our brain health.
Metabolites from healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, were associated with stronger cognitive function, while metabolites from diets high in sugar were associated with poorer cognitive function, according to the report, which was
The researchers also showed that these results can be generalized to different races and ethnicities.
“Research like this shows that what we eat can have profound effects on brain function. Diet is so much more than just your weight; it affects how your brain and body work and can have a huge impact on your mental and physical health,” Dr. Christopher Palmerassociate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of brain energyHe said.
The researchers wanted to understand how metabolites – substances produced by the body during digestion – affect cognition.
Different metabolites are produced by different types of foods and some are associated with positive health outcomes while other metabolites are consistently associated with worse health outcomes.
“Some metabolites are very healthy and good for us, (for example, vitamin B12 helps with neurological function, which is why we want to make sure we get enough of it if we’re vegetarian), and some aren’t good for us (rebitol was an example from the study) and may negatively affects our perception.” Dr.. Dana Ellis Hoenessa senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center, and assistant professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health.
The research team evaluated metabolic levels and cognitive function scores in 2,222 Hispanic and Hispanic individuals, 1,365 Europeans, and 478 African Americans.
Then they tested whether or not metabolites that had previously been linked to cognition
The research team found that six metabolites – four of which were sugars or derivatives of sugar – were associated with impaired cognitive function. Another type of metabolite, beta-cryptoxanthin, associated with fruit consumption and the Mediterranean diet is associated with stronger cognitive function.
The results can be generalized across all racial and ethnic groups involved.
Researchers believe that metabolites may be biomarkers of an essential relationship between diet and cognitive function. They did not find a strong causal relationship between metabolites and cognitive health, but they hope that future studies will explore how metabolites may directly affect cognition.
Paula DubrichMD, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian with Happea Nutrition, says the study should be interpreted with caution because there are some limitations.
“This study only emphasizes the importance of sticking to an overall healthy diet for long-term health, but it doesn’t provide any specific data about what exactly we can do from a nutritional standpoint to prevent cognitive decline,” Dobrich said.
While the study reaffirms that people who eat lower-quality diets may be more likely to develop chronic disease, the findings should not be used to make specific dietary recommendations, Dubrich says.
Other potential contributors known to influence cognitive health—such as socioeconomic status, physical activity, and social support—were not included in the assessment and sugar intake was never measured among participants, making it difficult to identify specific dietary recommendations for promoting brain health.
Diet is an important source of many metabolites, which can be signs of different aspects of our health.
“In general, healthy plant-based food tends to have more healthy, safe and beneficial metabolites and less healthy (highly processed) foods will have more unhealthy, less safe metabolites that negatively affect cognition,” Hunnes says.
It remains unclear whether metabolites directly affect cognition, however, researchers say there is a clear association between cognition and various metabolites. In addition, metabolites may be a useful biomarker to help scientists better understand brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
According to the researchers, the relationship likely goes both ways – diet affects our cognition and our cognition affects our diet.
This study was correlational, meaning that they did not prove that high blood sugar and sugar metabolites directly cause cognitive impairment. In fact, they found some evidence of “reverse causation,” which means pre-existing cognitive impairment may affect people’s food choices,” says Palmer.
Ultimately, the findings underscore the importance of sticking to a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
“Eat more whole, unprocessed foods — like the Mediterranean diet — and reduce processed foods that are high in sugar or low in vitamins and minerals,” Huns said.
Doebrich recommends following
“Keep in mind that cognitive health is related to lifestyle habits outside of the diet such as social interactions, hobbies, good, healthy sleep, physical activity, and alcohol and drug abuse among others,” Dobrich said.
New research confirms that what we eat can affect our brain health. By analyzing levels of metabolites, or substances the body produces during metabolism, researchers have found that certain types of food are associated with better or worse cognitive health. Although it is unclear how metabolites directly affect cognitive function, the results show an essential relationship between the two and highlight the importance of eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
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