25 April 2012

Holding on to brain function through nutrition

By the year 2050, the number of people in the world over 80 years old will reach 370 million. About 50 percent of adults currently 85 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. The statistics are sobering and warn of a growing and serious epidemic. A high prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, which is a debilitating and costly disease, can severely impact the population.

With this perspective, the American Society for Nutrition hosted a symposium on the nutritional prevention of cognitive decline on Wednesday at Experimental Biology in San Diego. At the event, speakers presented a comprehensive overview of epidemiological, animal, and clinical trials regarding the role of B vitamins, omega-3s, vitamin D, and caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea in the prevention and treatment of cognitive impairment.

Martha Morris, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at Tufts University, discussed the relationship of folic acid, B12, and homocysteine to age-related cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. In summary, she said, the evidence suggests that sufficient B12 intake could protect against cognitive decline related to elevated levels of homocysteine. However, once B12 status was replete, there was no further protection.

The next speaker to follow was Lenore Arab, Ph.D., nutritional epidemiologist at University of California, Los Angeles, who presented on the effects of caffeinated beverages coffee and tea. The popular drinks, of which many in attendance wished for during the early morning talk, showed promise in helping to slow cognitive decline according to evidence from observational, animal, and clinical data.

Tommy Cederholm, M.D., Ph.D., of Uppsala Universitet, Sweden, discussed the large amount of epidemiological studies and human clinical trials exploring the role of omega-3s. The data suggest plenty of biological mechanisms such as reducing inflammation and protection against amyloid-beta protein deposits.

"Fish is good for your brain," Dr. Cederholm said, noting that intake may assist in early stages of cognitive impairment. However, he added, intake did not appear to assist in patients who already had Alzheimer's disease.

Lastly, Joshua Miller, Ph.D., a professor of pathology of University of California, Davis, discussed new research findings that vitamin D played a major role in the brain development and function. The epidemiological and animal studies suggest a positive effect in the prevention or treatment of cognitive impairment, he said, but randomized controlled trials in humans were lacking. Unlike other micronutrients, he added, vitamin D has a complexity because of seasonal variation, which suggests it's important to measure both in summer and in winter when performing studies.

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