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'Brainy' elders eat more fish, fruits and vegetables

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A diet rich in a variety of nutrients keeps older brain sharp.

If you want to keep brain health intact with aging, consider eating more fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids that come from consuming fish. According to researchers "brainy" elders - the ones that do well on mental acuity tests - have less brain shrinkage and cognitive decline because they eat a variety of nutrients and avoid junk food.

The researchers say the finding is just in time for making a healthy New Year's resolution to eat more foods rich in vitamins B, C, D, E and healthy oils found in fish.

The study is the first to measure levels of vitamins and fatty acids in the blood stream of older adults to find a direct correlation between a variety of nutrients and brain health.

The research comes from scientists at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., and the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

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According to Maret Traber, a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute and co-author on the study, "This approach clearly shows the biological and neurological activity that's associated with actual nutrient levels, both good and bad.

In the study, the researchers found eating trans-fats, baked goods, fried and fast foods and margarine was associated with lower scores in cognitive performance and brain shrinkage, but the opposite was true for participants whose average age was 87 who ate a diet rich in fish, fruits and vegetables.

For mental acuity scores, the researchers say though much depended on age and education, higher levels of vitamins and nutrients found in fish accounted for 17 percent of mental sharpness and 37 percent of the variation in brain size, which was measured with MRI.

The uniqueness of the study is that it didn’t rely on food intake questionnaires to link eating fish, fruits and vegetables to brain health. The researchers also measured 30 different nutrient levels, instead of just one, to find it takes a combination of healthy foods to keep us "brainy" with aging.

Neurology: doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182436598
"Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging"
G.L. Bowman, ND, MPH et al.
December 28, 2011

Image credit: Morguefile