Is there any association between losing your marbles and the diet?

Is there any association between losing your marbles and the diet?

Can what you eat slow age-related cognitive decline?

As you age the brain slows down and loses its sharpness – this is a natural process of ageing, but could lifestyle and diet play a part in the rate of age-related cognitive decline?

finger, silky, university, rose, yellow – remember these 5 words.

Many fear the loss of cognition.  The accompanying loss of independence is a primary reason for entry into a residential care facility.  Can lifestyle or food choices maximise cognitive function, thus preserving independence in the later years? Could it be as easy as eating more fish with potatoes or maybe some broccoli with blueberries?

Graph showing decline of cognition as we age
Lifestyle choices can attenuate the natural decline of cognition i.e.take the dashed line option and maintain cognition and independence for longer

A study at Massey University, Auckland is currently recruiting 360 adults aged 65-74 years to explore lifestyle choices (primarily the diet) and age-related cognitive decline.

The REACH study (Researching Eating, Activity and Cognitive Health) is very comprehensive; collecting a multitude of data on the diet, cognitive function, physical attributes including activity levels, health and demographics, anthropometry measurements and blood markers including whether participants carry the Apolipoprotein ε4 (ApoE ε4) gene.

Using the collected dietary data and statistical techniques, a dietary pattern is established.  A dietary pattern scrutinises the complete diet, rather than individual components of the diet in isolation e.g. fish intake.  This method retains the significance of the combination and interactions between foods. The dietary pattern is tested for associations with cognitive function. Important risk factors are also considered in the process.

Physical activity is one modifiable risk factor to help maintain good cognitive function.  Others include keeping weight, blood pressure and blood sugars under control and not smoking.  Some risk factors are not modifiable e.g. age and our genetic make-up.  One genetic factor, ApoE ε4, is seen more in people who develop Alzheimer’s Disease than others.  This gene not only increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease but also puts healthy individuals at risk of a faster cognitive decline as they age.  A quarter of the population carries the ApoE ε4 gene.  Not everyone who carries the gene develops dementia.

I’m fascinated with how we can use food to improve our health, well-being and performance. Traditionally, nutrition research has focussed on individual foods and nutrients, however this has several limitations as people don’t eat foods and nutrients in isolation – they eat combinations of foods as meals or snacks to form an overall dietary pattern
~Dr Kathryn Beck

Dr Kathryn Beck is the key investigator of the REACH study and acquired funding for the study from an Emerging Researcher grant from Health Research Council.

If you would like to be part of this study, please go to the REACH study website where you will find more information and can register your interest.  The study is recruiting til the end of 2018.  Participants will visit Massey University, Albany, Auckland for one morning only for data collection and cognitive testing.

So what were those five words at the beginning of this blog?

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